What the Coronavirus Means for Black America

There’s an old African American proverb that says, “When America has a cold, Black America gets the flu.” So, what do we get during a global pandemic? The U.S. government had ample time to prepare and take preventative measures for the coronavirus. But instead, the Trump Administration chose to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19, allowing the virus to spread across America, sending the country into a tailspin. 

Couple the Trump Administration’s indifference and incompetence with an inadequate or nearly non-existent social safety net and we’ve got a disaster on our hands. Most of Black America will feel the negative effects of the coronavirus. We often endure racism, healthcare discrimination, and disparities in treatment.

The biased belief that Black people are either faking illnesses or not experiencing the same level of pain as whites is unfortunately still common. There is also the issue of Black patients rejected for lack of insurance and in some cases, even insurance isn’t enough. With the predicted surge of coronavirus cases, in a healthcare system already not adequately equipped for a pandemic, lack of COVID-19 testing availability and long wait periods for patients are more of a certainty than a probability.  

Healthcare leaders and officials must make sure that Black Americans seeking treatment for COVID-19 have their concerns taken seriously and that all the appropriate measures are taken to protect their health and wellbeing. Coronavirus tests and treatment must be completely free and remain free. It’s scary to see that California Rep. Katie Porter had to corner CDC Director Robert Redfield into committing to making testing free for all Americans. The U.S. government should have made free testing for coronavirus a default instead of having to be pressured into it.

Additionally, some Black immigrants and other immigrants of color may be too fearful of authorities to seek testing and treatment. Trump’s public charge rule has created an atmosphere of fear, making immigrants afraid to use healthcare assistance like Medicaid. Undocumented immigrants may avoid seeking treatment in order to steer clear of attention concerning their citizenship status. There are also other social and societal barriers connected to “cultural competence” among healthcare workers that prevent immigrants from accessing healthcare. 

In terms of economics, the coronavirus could be a major issue of financial instability for Black America. Decreased hours with short-term employment, low-wage, or hourly jobs would result in a substantially reduced income, causing a financial crisis likely to hit Black Americans the most. With 60% of Americans lacking $500 in savings the abrupt shutdown of major events, buildings, and various places of employment will strike a major blow to Black American livelihoods. Due to structural barriers and historical discrimination, for much of Black America, it’s already a struggle to pay for bills, housing, healthcare, and student loans. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, promising options for additional paid leave, is a good start. However, it still leaves behind potentially 80% of America’s workers. If the goal is to save most Americans from financial ruin, this won’t be accomplished. The most effective legislation would include a paid sick leave plan for all workers. If the federal government does not take steps to ensure a universal economic safety net for the nation, the economic impact may be crushing for Black Americans. This Act is helpful but we need more.

As both federal and local governments scramble to address needs. Black communities can take our own protective measures during this crisis. 

For example, churches, mosques, and other religious temples can limit the attendance of large crowds and focus on providing resources and assistance. Local communities can push for school districts to continue providing meals for school-aged children during school closings. We can put pressure on our governors and state lawmakers to pass emergency legislation covering food assistance for low-income families and paid sick leave for hourly employees. Local politicians, activists, non-profit advocates, and religious leaders can work with utility companies to prevent utility shutoffs during this pandemic. We can also advocate for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures by the housing industry. Most of all, we must put pressure on all local municipalities, the federal government, and corporations to put people-over-profits.

This assessment is not meant to be bleak but to serve as a warning. Yes, Black America has survived the worst in our society. Yes, we will survive the coronavirus too. But we must emphasize the need to protect Black lives during this pandemic. This is not the time to be complacent or undermine the severity of COVID-19 and its health and financial effects on Black Americans. Steps must be taken towards a people-centered economic bailout for all of America along with universal health care to ensure that Black America does not bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor

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