In America, Covid19 Pandemic is Black history
It was the hot summer of 2020 in the United States, with an unprecedented percentage of Americans closed off at home, practicing social distancing, when George Floyd was murdered. Americans, as much of the rest of the world, had nothing else to do, the video circulated faster then the virus, bringing rage in many. It was then, after more than 4 months of no gatherings when many broke the quarantine. Social justice versus public health started a full debate that continues to this day, given that protest represented a small increase in cases as indicated by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
George Floyd became a household name, months later, the protests and the politics that followed brought Joe Biden to the White House. The African American community lived through Covid19 with the added pressure of race, police brutality, systemic racism, transpiring also into current culture.
At the Ranwick Gallery, an art gallery in front of the White House in Washington DC, an exhibition of contemporary art showcases contemporary pieces of American artists. A small but powerful section shows several face masks decorated with social justice images and slogans that resonated during those intense days of the hot summer of 2020.
In his new album, the rapper Kendrick Lamar, raps about grief and pain, repeating “this shit is hard” in the song N95, referencing face masks and in his video released “The Heart Part 5” speaks out about the way black man are treated and covered in the media, among other topics.
Yet, the footprint that Covid19 left in the Black community, as it also did in the Hispanic, goes beyond social justice, systemic racism, and goes to the core of the social inequalities in twenty first century America.
Hispanic and Black Americans have had the highest rates of death in all age groups in the US. As the New York Times special coverage reported, many reasons explain this data. First, essential workers, those in the front lines during the health crisis working in stores, delivering groceries, meals, were disproportional people of color. Second, people of color tend to have worst access to housing, in average more people lives in Black and Hispanic households than in white households, easing the spread of the virus. Third, the historic experience of the African American community with vaccines makes the Black community more hesitant to get them. In the early and mid-twentieth century, Black communities were used to test new vaccines increasing the hostility towards vaccination until today.
As the Covid19 presence in our day to day diminishes — at least as these lines are written — , the issues that have now taken over the current political debate in the United States continue to be an eco-chamber of what begun in the hot summer of 2020, police brutality and reform, education reform, Critical Race Theory. As we move on from Covid19, the pressure to the African American community remains.