By Dobijoki Emanuela
Each morning that I wake, I give thanks to the Most-High that I am still living. I then immediately get into contact with my parents and siblings to make sure that they too have been blessed with another day. I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t so paranoid and anxious about the potential of never seeing my family members again. It wasn’t until the events that were perpetuated onto my community – the Black community – during this pandemic that made me weary and afraid of the varied angles that our lives can simply be taken from us. It’s been said that COVID 19 has no race and that we are all at risk, however, I respectfully disagree that race is not a factor in the ways in which COVID 19 has impacted communities. Yes, we all have the potential of becoming exposed to the virus and contracting it, but Black and racialized communities face greater health inequities which leave them more vulnerable to becoming exposed to COVID 19 at higher rates. In fact, 83% of reported cases in Toronto were Black and racialized people; Black people made up 21% of cases although only 9% of Toronto’s population is Black (Cheung, 2020). This disproportionate rate of Black and racialized bodies exposed to this health crisis speaks to Kwame McKenzie’s statement that “COVID-19 is not a great equalizer — it discriminates” (Cheung, 2020).
While the Black community battles the effects of COVID 19, we are reminded of the reasons why these disparities exists. It is due to the deep-rooted systemic injustices that manifest locally and globally. We are reminded of the ways in which Whiteness and carefully crafted anti-Black racism contribute to the reason that Black communities are at risk. One of the most offensive, yet not surprising comments made by European doctors suggested that Africa is the most realistic ‘testing lab’ for the coronavirus because Africans are essentially primitive. Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris asked “shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” – and further went on to state “A bit like as it is done elsewhere for some studies on Aids. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves” (Coronavirus: France racism row over doctors’ Africa testing comments, 2020). Africa was seen as too barbaric, uncivilized and ‘in need’ of White saviours, even while having the least number of cases globally at the time. The narrative developed around Africa has imposed an inferiority complex that depicts Africa as a place of raging savages, while those of European ancestry are seen as the binary that can free Africans from bondage. First, these narratives are erroneous – but the focal point of this issue is that African lives, Black lives are constantly being targeted and unwillingly sacrificed, because to most – Black Lives do not matter.
As the world slowly began to adjust to this “new normal”, Black people had to sit and accept the reality that it doesn’t matter whether we are in the middle of a pandemic; we cannot sleep while Black, jog while Black, laugh while Black, drive while Black or shop while Black. We cannot LIVE while Black because of anti-Black racism at the hands of White-supremacy and more specifically, the police. The Black community is at odds as we are not only battling COVID 19 at a disproportionate rate, but in conjunction we are battling the right to live at the hands of systems that were shaped to kill and oppress us. To be Black is to live knowing that there is a chance that we may be killed by police or those that represent White supremacist ideologies just for the sake of existing. We remember and seek justice for #AhmaudArbery, #GeorgeFlyod, BreonnaTaylor, #JacobBlake and countless other brothers and sisters who have been murdered or harmed by the police and the acts of anti-Black racism. Although we had extraordinary global outrange, we know that the true work has to be done by us – the Black community – because we are the only ones who truly know, feel and experience the burden of anti-Black racism. This burden makes me weep for a miracle so that my people can finally be free. I am tired, WE are TIRED.
To think things could not get worse is an understatement, I question often where we find the capacity as a community to continue to fight even admits our own personal and internal struggles. I think of the superheroes that I watched growing up and how they always had Power regardless of what they endured. Yet even as I wished to be a superhero like them, none of them represented me well enough. In 2018 when Black Panther came to theatres my whole family went to watch the film together. Our communities joined in celebration as we finally had a superhero that represented us and showed us that Africa is the past, present and the future. A superhero that reminded us that we are connected to our ancestors and therefore we will forever have Power. A superhero that became the living dream of so many Black children and adults alike. The Black Panther represented me, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor. The Black Panther represented Chadwick Boseman. Although the Black Panther [T’Challa] was a fictional character, he depicted our safety and something that we can hold on to, reminding us that WE will get through. On August 28, 2020, Chadwick Boseman, the actor that played King T’Challa from the Black Panther movie passed away from a 4-year battle with colon cancer. Boseman gave us a number of films since his diagnosis, many of which required so much physical labour to effectively depict each character. Through it all he was suffering, yet he fought through his pain and remained silent – for us. The fruit of his labour gave us our hero – in and out of character. Boseman represented Black excellence, African-ness and heroism – without him, many Black children would not believe that they are capable. At a time where we are battling COVID 19 and anti-Black racism, we need our Superhero to protect us. I am devastated about the loss of our dear brother, King and true Superhero, Chadwick Boseman; now that he is our ancestor, we are left to carry on his legacy by holding on to our purpose and our people until our last breath.
Now, how has COVID 19 impacted Black communities? The Black community is fighting a battle that no other community could ever combat. We are experiencing an intersectional pain that unifies us. As we continue this battle of survival, we acknowledge that we have lost many of our heroes and superheroes – but we have gained a level of tenacity and collective potency that has never been seen before and WE – WILL – PREVAIL!
Black and racialized communities remain at higher risk of falling into poverty during COVID 19 and given that we are not expected to revert back to our “normal” anytime soon, the following is recommended to support Black Lives during this time.
- The Prime Minister recently announced a $221 Million investment for Black businesses, which is intended to support entrepreneurs across the country to recover from the financial crisis that COVID 19 has caused and to grow their business. I recommended that a thorough evaluation on processes for recipients are vetted prior to the official roll out in order to avoid similar challenges like that which took place with the CERB which had many recipients returning the financial support to the government and being threatened with fines due to the government’s lack of clarity.
- Toronto and London, ON have declared Anti-Black racism as a public health crisis. It is recommended that the federal government makes the same declaration as Anti-Black racism steams throughout Canada and its legacy. By declaring the public health crisis it emphasizes more intent on serving the health and safety of Black people and their communities.
- In conjunction with the previous recommendation – the federal government should offer free and affordable mental health services such as counselling and therapy to the Black community as the implications of COVID 19 alongside anti-Black racism takes an emotional and psychological toll that should not be tolerated.
- Lastly, it is recommended the federal government collect race-based data not only for COVID 19 but for all essential services and care in order to track the ways in which various communities are being affected, unrepresented – in order to commit to intentional change.
Cheung, J. (2020, July 30). Black people and other people of colour make up 83% of reported COVID-19 cases in Toronto. Retrieved from CBC News: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-covid-19-data-1.5669091
Coronavirus: France racism row over doctors’ Africa testing comments. (2020, April 3). Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52151722
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash