Two Demons: COVID-19 and Systemic Racism

I’ve seen a fair amount of concern from people who are worried about the effect recent protests will have on the COVID-19 infection rate in the US. It’s certainly complicated when we have two complex issues swirling around each other.

Track global COVID-19 cases via Johns Hopkins. We’re uh… number one. If you need to understand the basics of the coronavirus read this.

To the people who aren’t physically protesting because you live with someone at high-risk: good on you. Thank you for thinking of others and putting them before yourself. Find another way to support. Donate. Speak out. Participate virtually.

To the people who are high-risk and are staying in to live to fight another day: (virtual) high five!  We need that too. We need this movement to live on so we can make lasting changes. The people in this category are primarily our elders, so thank you for inspiring the younger generation. Let us fight for you, now.

To the people who are so afraid of the COVID-19 pandemic you are shaming or belittling the current protests: Fuck. You. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. 

These protests are about equality for Black lives, lives that have been enslaved, relocated, families broken apart, denied housing, education, and jobs, denied equal access to healthcare, incarcerated and killed at staggering rates compared to other—especially white—demographics.  COVID-19 is part of this problem. Blacks and other minorities have higher infection and death rates from COVID-19 than whites in America. It has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with economic opportunities. Most of our essential workers are Black or POC. Essential workers are being asked to work in a high-risk environment that is poorly monitored, with inadequate protective gear, and usually zero training on how to understand and avoid contamination. Essential workers are being asked to do this and in many cases still earn less than people on unemployment. In some instances, social distancing isn’t even an option—too many people living too close together combined with some essential workers continually at risk of exposure.

While deaths due to neglect or lack of access to care aren’t as shocking or headline-worthy as police brutality, this isn’t new to COVID-19. Economic inequality is correlated with decreased life expectancy. (Note that this article is from 2015. There is literature dating back at least a century.)

Yes, COVID-19 is a big deal. My deepest condolences to our healthcare professionals who are putting their lives and their family’s lives at risk every day to save as many as we can. Thank you, thank you again. I’m sorry that you may have to deal with more shit as the rest of us fight for justice. But it’s not like our country was doing a good job in the first place. If we still had the pandemic task force, if the CDC hadn’t botched initial tests, if we hadn’t sent untrained federal agents to process early American quarantinees, maybe we wouldn’t be here. But here we are. And we shouldn’t let an incompetent administration and hundreds of years of toxic systems use a pandemic to suppress talk about deeper issues.

Many people who are highlighting the potential ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic over the current protests may just be ignorant. Ignorant of their own privilege. If this is you, you’re in for quite a ride. I suggest you get used to challenging your worldview. If you need help, let me introduce you to my dear friend Google, or a history book. It might even be helpful to start with this Buzzfeed quiz.

What is more insidious, is people who use the COVID-19 pandemic to actively redirect our attention to silence Black and POC voices. That’s evil. If you want to maintain the status quo, what better way than to take the high road by pointing to the pandemic? Don’t let it blind you to the deeper, systematic issues that we’ve needed to address for centuries.