If you’re thinking that the racial tensions in the USA that has sparked multiple demonstrations around the world does not concern you, then you are wrong. The Black people being chased, maltreated, disenfranchised, maligned, lynched and knelt upon are your brothers and sisters. It concerns everyone from the Black race and non-Blacks. The Black race refers to anyone with origins from Africa even if the African blood goes back multiple generations or if one-eighth of his blood is African. An understanding of what is going on in the USA will give us a better understanding of the disproportionate deaths among Blacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Black populations make up less than 15 percent in the USA, the number of Blacks who died was 30 percent of confirmed cases. A similar statistic repeated itself in the United Kingdom. Blacks have been dying more during this pandemic even though they make up a minority of the population. They are not dying by chance.
A closer investigation into these deaths shows that these deaths were common amongst Blacks because they held essential jobs. While majority of the population was on lockdown in their homes, protecting themselves from the virus, these Blacks had to be at their jobs. They held jobs like hospital cleaners, garbage collectors, supermarket attendants, bus drivers, security men, grave diggers, mortuary attendants, care givers and nurses’ aides. A few were nurses and doctors. Majority held the low-level essential jobs. Apart from working in the essential job industry, most of the affected Blacks had comorbidities associated with institutional racism. Poor Housing, unemployment, unequal educational opportunities and lack of health insurance were the precursors to the comorbidities that they had. Most of them are living in overcrowded, segregated housing. They lack decent job opportunities. Poor education invariably also limits their job opportunities and spending capacities. Majority of the Blacks could not afford health insurance such that whenever they became sick, they relied on inadequate home remedies since they could not afford to see a doctor. And when some became sick, they continued to go to work because they couldn’t afford to stop work. Usually, poor income leads to poor food choices because cheap food choices are usually high in fat, sugar, salt and low on fiber. The combinations of such foods will give hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular complications.
Racial inequalities in the USA are prevalent in the employment, housing, healthcare, educational system, academia, boards of corporations and in Congress. The racism in the USA, has been institutionalized. Although Blacks are no longer enslaved as it was during the slave trade, Black males are disproportionately incarcerated. Thirty eight percent of inmates are Blacks while Blacks make up only less than fifteen percent of the country’s population. The first slave ship landed in Virginia, USA in 1691 and for the next 240 years Africans were sold as cargo. The number of Africans kidnapped from the African continent and sold into slavery across Europe and America was more than10 million. The true number may never be known because many Africans were thrown into the ocean during the slave trade and entire ships carrying slaves from Africa were deliberately sunk in order to avoid arrest after slave trade was outlawed. The Southerners depended on slave labour for the farming of tobacco. When the Northerners wanted slavery abolished, the Southerners chose to secede. The ensuing Civil War lasted for four years and the Northerners won. The American Civil war was from 1861- 1865. Although slavery was officially abolished in 1865, Andrew Johnson a Democrat and the 17th American president that took over after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in a spirit of reconciliation allowed the former Confederate fighters to run for office. These former Confederate soldiers influenced the introduction of laws that saw the marginalization and segregation of the freed slaves. Some of these laws were the segregation of schools, Blacks standing up for White people in the bus, separate door entrances in restaurants and ban on inter racial marriages. These laws, further enshrined racism into the fabric of America.
Although these laws were eventually repealed or amended, the effects still remained in the American society. In the USA as in other countries with a colonial past, the perpetrators of these evil laws have been venerated by erecting statues in their honour. The supporters of the statues want the statues to remain; that it is part of their history. Museums hold artifacts of history and the statues can be there. After all, the statues of Hitler are not sported all over post-war Germany. Rather, we see Auschwitz Museum and other memorials dedicated to the lives lost during the Holocaust. The statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down in Iraq. Monuments of oppressive regimes are usually erected while they are in power but in the USA, more than a thousand monuments of Confederate soldiers were erected after the fall of the Confederate South. I do not know how many monuments if any were erected in remembrance of the millions of slaves’ lives lost in the course of slavery.
The Southerners in the political sphere influenced the lawmakers to frame laws that saw that the newly freed Blacks might be legally free but were made unequal. These were the Jim Crow Laws. Gradually, the gains of the abolitionists were eroded. These laws did not allow Blacks to vote. Only those that could read were allowed to vote. The freed slaves could not read. The Blacks were legally not allowed to share the same public spaces with the Whites. They were not allowed to drink from the same water fountain. They could only sit at the back of the bus. They couldn’t eat in the same restaurant. And inter racial marriage was against the law. Then they segregated schools. Blacks couldn’t attend White schools. The schools that the Blacks attended were sparsely furnished and were chronically deficient in material, financial and human resources. Most of these schools had leaking roofs, lacked books and their teachers treated their Black students poorly. Jonathan Kozol gave a slight glimpse into the educational system in his book; Death at an Early Age. Today, the state of schools in predominant areas of people of color is not much different than it was in the younger days of Jonathan Kozol.
After the desegregation of schools and several laws were passed to give equal rights to the Blacks, there were still unwritten laws that subjugated and oppressed the Black man. They were not given equal opportunities. Racism was no longer in the form of slavery but had now become the legalisation of white supremacy, racial and social injustice, the demonisation and oppression of the black race. Even in the entertainment industry, Black men were typically stereotyped as drug dealing, homeless punks. The Black women were also stereotyped as loose women with many children from multiple fathers. Black men and women have made scientific discoveries but the media hardly ever celebrates them.
Although Rodney King was filmed being beaten by White police officers in 1991, before the advent of smartphones, it revealed the deep-seated maltreatment of Blacks in the hands of police. One can imagine the many injustices that could not be captured on camera before the advent of smart technology. Today, the technology in smartphones and media platforms has allowed the world to capture these injustices in a matter of seconds and sometimes even live.
In today’s America, there are stark differences in the policing of a Black community. In 2015, when a White man killed nine Blacks in a church, the world saw how the police arrested him with gentility and even bought him a burger because he said he was hungry. The young man had also posted photos of himself with the Confederate flag.
In 2014, a Black man named Eric Garner died from a police chokehold in New York. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.” He was being arrested on the suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. The police officer was White.
The police officer was not charged. Blacks are taught by their relatives to respect police officers and avoid confrontation because of fear of being accidentally shot, arrested or killed. The treatment of Blacks by police is just the micro-optics of how Blacks are generally treated. The Whites know this and play it to their advantage; Recently, Amy Cooper, A White woman, called the police on a Black man because the Black man politely reminded her to put her dog on a leash. And even when they show respect, they get killed.
In 2016, a young African American School lunch supervisor, Philando Castile was shot dead in his car while he was trying to bring out his driver’s license from his back/side pocket. His girlfriend live-streamed it. The police officer was acquitted. The police officer said he taught he was bringing out a gun. There are too many examples. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy killed by a White police officer. The young boy had been brandishing a toy gun in a park. The police officer was not indicted.
In 2016, Alton Sterling was shot dead by two police officers while they were trying to arrest him. He was selling CD’s. The officers were not indicted. In 2015, Freddie Gray was stopped and arrested because he “looked” at the police. He was not properly restrained in the police van and became paralyzed from the neck and later died. The six officers were charged but none of them faced prison time. The police officers included both Whites and Blacks.
The latest in legally backed police brutality is George Floyd. George Floyd was being arrested for suspected use of a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. While he was handcuffed, a White police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Two other White officers also knelt on his back as he continued to gasp and plead that he couldn’t breathe. A fourth officer stood and watched. George Floyd died shortly after.
A few days before the publication of this article, another Black man was killed by a White police officer. Rayshard Brooks was killed on the 12th of June in Atlanta, Georgia barely three days after the funeral of George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks was killed while police were trying to arrest him for sleeping in the drive-thru of a Wendy’s restaurant. The protests around the world resonate globally with people of color because the culture of oppression of the Black race is pervasive around the world. It is now beginning to resonate with some Whites. Also, the moments that George Floyd kept shouting he couldn’t breathe even calling out for his late mum will resonate with most adults, children and teenagers. It became a watershed moment for anyone with empathy. The global push might have been because the pandemic has left many people at home, unemployed and with the lockdown just being eased, many people had immense opportunity to think on the events of a helpless, dying man.
Racism against the Black race started centuries ago. It didn’t start with the current American president in power. It did not end with the Civil Rights movement but continued even after the election of the first Black president. It started hundreds of years ago and cannot end in one day but the ending must start a day at a time. Several presidents in power saw what was happening but were not willing to shift the status quo. It has to start with deliberate deterrent measures against the police officers responsible for the death of an innocent man; not just a slap on the wrist. There needs to be reformed in the police sector. The Senate and House of Representatives must make provisions in the laws that provide equal opportunities for Blacks in employment, housing, education and health care. The pandemic has exacerbated the racial inequalities.
For these opportunities to be equal, they must give the Blacks economic leverage to be able to be on the same level as their White counterparts before they can even begin to talk of equal opportunities. By economic leverage, I mean the Black man or woman is already starting off at a deficit in terms of resources and opportunities. Historically, there have been generational inequalities in the USA; the average White man’s family’s wealth through inheritance over multiple generations is $700, 000 more than that of the Black man. To counter these deficits, an equalizer or economic leverage in cash or kind must be given to him. Children must be taught about the harm of racism right from kindergarten. Policies must be developed to address social injustice against the Black race. Racisms did not start in one day or a couple of years ago. We should not expect it to stop in a year or two.
It will be gradual but the push must be sustained. Blacks also have a role to play. They must stop the neocolonial mentality that they must be like the White in appearance or look for validation from the Whites. The mentality that makes Black persons bleach their skin, texturize their hair, weave on European-looking human hair and re-shape their noses in the hopes of looking more like the White race. God has made every one of us beautiful in his or her own skin. He made us equal and we must live together not as an inferior race. Black parents must teach their children to love their own skin, their own hair and their own African features. They must also avoid internalized racism. Internalized racism unconsciously supports the ideology of White privilege and White supremacy. Blacks that have internalized racism may not know it because the structural racism in the society has been internalized as normal. Blacks must never make themselves feel inferior or act inferior to another race. They are not less intelligent or less beautiful. We must embrace our race as equal to every other race. We must not accept the oppression against the Black race. Love is real and we should make it real by not loving ourselves any less than people of other races. Let’s keep it real.