“BREATHING WHILE BLACK IN THE TIME OF CORONA; ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE”
Cindy Brown Austin
Black Americans have survived a number of catastrophes that have threatened to undermine the very core of our national existence. We’ve survived the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Clan. We’ve endured the assassination of our wisest, most promising leaders, and fought our way back from the scourge of crack cocaine. Yet right now the Coronavirus is decimating our communities faster than we can count the number of dead. But that is just one of the major problems our communities are grappling with, others include a lack of proper testing, access to life-saving information, and the availability of personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and face shields.
Numbers don’t lie and recent stats provide evidence that thousands of minorities have already died while the White House plans strategies for the November presidential election.
Although sanctioned testing in the largest urban cities inhabited by people of color is not widely implemented or reported, a recent CNN study revealed that in Illinois, African-Americans are only 14 percent of the population but represent 40% of the state’s Coronavirus deaths. And in Louisiana, where only 33% percent of the population is African-American, they account for a whopping 70% of the state’s Coronavirus deaths. In Michigan, where just 14% of the state’s population is African-American, Blacks comprise 41% of Coronavirus deaths. These startling numbers reveal that people of color, namely Blacks and Latinos, are contracting and succumbing to COVID 19 at a rate of six times more than their white counterparts.
Even more troubling is that although Trump has publicly acknowledged his awareness of the devastating effects of the Covet virus on the country’s poorest minority citizens, namely, those who were already living at or below the poverty line in economically devastated environments before the virus hit, to date, no national policies or priorities have been set to remedy or even address this alarming crisis.
The federal government’s refusal to assist states with testing is a way to keep those who are suffering the most, voiceless, invisible, and ready to implode. It’s social engineering at its best, the inconspicuous method of warfare used to dismantle Black progress for generations.
What will it take to wake us up?
In northern cities like Hartford, Connecticut, the concentration of poor people living on top of each other in confined spaces, coupled with underlying health conditions like diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, provide a toxic breeding ground for the transmission of the Coronavirus from family to family, person to person and house to house.
Poor folk are the largest users of public transportation. They ride the crowded subways and transit buses, they drive the school buses and clean up hotel rooms. They are the custodians who clean toilets, the security personnel who check badges, and patrol crowded corridors. They’re the cashiers at supermarkets, banks, and gas stations that count our cash and hand back money. They’re the CNAs that empty the bedpans of COVID patients in hospitals and convalescent homes. They work at beauty salons and daycares, rocking sick children to sleep so that parents can go to work.
Whether they like it or not, poor folk are on the front lines of battle, yet many are without access to proper health care. They can’t afford to pay for prescriptions or take time off work to go to the doctor. By the time they are brought in by ambulance into the emergency room, it is very often, too late. Since last week, in Hartford, nine people I know have died in Hartford from the Coronavirus.
On the first weekend in May, in Hartford, fueled by Trump pressuring states to re-open up for business and recreation, scores of Blacks and Latinos were hosting barbecues and birthday parties without masks, funded by the extra cushion provided by government Stimulus checks. Meanwhile, dozens of cases of COVID had been diagnosed at Hartford Hospital and St. Francis Hospital, the capital city’s two major hospitals. For some reason, some Black folks don’t feel that social distancing applies to them. They’ve convinced themselves that COVID 19 is a governmental conspiracy designed to control their freedom. Others are convinced that they’re too young and healthy to be stopped by a virus.
But CNN’s African American news anchor, Van Johnson, speaking on a recent panel broadcast by CNN, summed it all up like this:
“A rumor got started that Black folks were immune to the disease (COVID 19). This was all over the Internet. It started off as a joke, then people took it seriously. We’ve seen this before with HIV. People were saying, ‘Oh, that’s just for gay people, I don’t have to worry about it.’ Then it spread everywhere.
“The numbers (Coronavirus) for Black folk are gonna be completely different than the numbers coming out of China or Italy because it’s an epidemic jumping on top of a bunch of other epidemics that are already in the Black community.
“We already have an epidemic of high blood pressure, which is lethal if you get this disease. Nobody’s saying that. We already have an epidemic of asthma, obesity, etc. In other words, we gotta start saying to our Black relatives and Black friends, ‘Do you take pills every day? If you take pills every day and you’re supposed to, get your butt back in the house and don’t come out, or you’re going to die.’
“It’s not just age. It’s are you sick? And in our community, Black people are under-insured, under-employed, and barely healthy on a good day. We have to change the discussion. We have to start screaming this to the black community or we’re gonna have a catastrophe on our hands.”