Despite its best efforts, the Trump administration cannot blame black people for dying from COVID-19. As Georgia’s Gov. Kemp moves forward with plans to reopen parts of Georgia, he’s completely disregarding reports that a significant number of black Americans will contract the virus or die as a result.
Despite the clearly harmful decision-making by Republicans in power, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tried to shame black people for making up 30 percent of the people who have died from COVID 19, despite being just 13 percent of the overall population. Anthony Fauci even stepped in to defend this harmful rhetoric. Instead of focusing blame on communities who have been targeted and attacked, we need a moral revival to provide the support and resources that black communities deserve.
But this is America. One of the deepest rooted truths of American culture is blaming black people, targeting us by saying we need to change our behavior in order not to die instead of addressing how decades of structural racism, political exploitation and economic exclusions have compounded health and wellness disparities in black communities.
Therefore, we are disappointed, but not surprised that Republicans, who are presently burning down our society by failing to adequately respond to COVID-19, are looking for a scapegoat and directing the blame towards black people. It’s time to address the finger-pointing that will only increase the harm caused by COVID-19. Progress for our entire country requires the next stimulus package to include guaranteed free access to testing and treatment, monthly emergency cash assistance, clemency for incarcerated low-level offenders, and increased support for black-owned businesses.
We live in a country where generations of redlining and gentrification have forced black people to live in polluted neighborhoods that have made thousands more susceptible to COVID-19. A country where black people are exposed to 21 percent more air pollution than white people and thousands of black people in Flint, Mich. still don’t have clean water to wash their hands with during the pandemic and where Southern states have refused to expand Medicaid, despite the disparate impact on black Southerners’ health. We live in a country where 52 percent of all workers make less than a living wage, and disproportionately, black low-wage workers are blamed for working while sick when corporations are forcing them to use their only paid time off to quarantine.
This country passed laws that banned us from learning how to read and then blamed us for not being able to. This country swindled our signatures on loans specifically designed for default and then blamed us for not being able to pay. This country created laws and systems to prevent us from gaining wealth, and then criminalized being poor with money bail. We were blamed when Hillary lost and now blamed when Biden won. We are blamed for the violence in America, though we undoubtedly receive it more often than not. Even crime TV shows manufacture blame, telling America that black people deserve the abuse we get.
During this pandemic, however, black people are not the problem. We are the solution, tirelessly working on the front lines of this pandemic, building joy in digital spaces and fighting for the deep systemic change needed to keep the entire country comfortable and safe.
The inconvenient truth is that black people are more vulnerable to this health crisis not because our community is weaker, but because we have been denied the resources that make any community strong. Black people have higher rates of asthma and are more likely to die from this virus because environmental racism has kept communities of color segregated near commercial pollutants that other communities can afford to avoid. Black people are overrepresented in institutions unable to allow for social distancing, like jails and prisons because we’ve been targeted and over-criminalized for generations. Black people are concentrated in parts of the labor market that don’t have the infrastructure for paid time off or work-from-home options because our health and safety have never been a priority.
Now our country has to reconcile the inequality it has created. In this life or death moment, black voters are watching to see what Congress will actually deliver. It’s time for each member of Congress to prove that they are an essential worker by proving they can fix a crisis born from the harmful decisions, choices and practices of our government.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is the president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival.
Rashad Robinson is President of Color of Change, the largest online civil rights organization in the country.