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It has taken me longer than I wanted to figure out what I wanted to say about this situation so awfully affecting the black population globally. My first draft was incendiary, my second draft was incomprehensible and this, my third attempt, I hope conveys the difficulty we face, acknowledges the preventability of some of the impact we are noticing and provides some thoughts on what we can do moving forward.
The black community globally is not one without issue. I recently saw a photograph of the rapper Andre3000 wearing a bomber jacket purporting a slogan that read, “Across cultures, darker people suffer most. Why?” It ignited a thought-spiral that begun with this statement and follow-up question:
“The Black population is systematically oppressed by social policy decisions that negatively and disproportionately affect our wellbeing and financial stability. What is the potential long-term effect of this reality if it continues to go unchecked?”
In this post, I’m exploring that question in light of the expected outcomes of the coronavirus in the UK.
For context, I’d like to introduce you to the reality of Blackness in the UK:
The above figures are all according to the most recent reports by the Office of National Statistics who also state that 45% of the Black African population in the UK is living in poverty and 53% is on some form of government support. For comparison, 56% of the white population is in receipt of government support while 20% are living in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In that final comparison, the disparity may be accounted for by “No Recourse to Public Funds” cases; Black African immigrants are living below the poverty line but are unable to claim any government support due to their immigration status.
Finally, according to the British Heart Foundation, Black people are more likely to be living with co-morbidities that are worsened by the contraction of Coronavirus such as High blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
At the time of writing this post, data has not been released about the specific racial breakdown of the disproportionate amount of deaths of people of colour in the outbreak. However, we do know that, according to the BBC, despite making up only 14% of the population, people of colour represent 33% of Coronavirus in-patients.
With that information as a backdrop to the current global pandemic we’re living through, a severe impact on the Black community is to be expected. We are at risk and we are dying. Yet we continue to be ineffectively supported. Unconscious bias is rife within the system that we have to rely on to save our lives. The people in the Black community in the UK have been repeatedly “gaslit” by the health system that in aggregate, won’t believe our pain is real. We are reliant on a system in which even our service is unwelcome.
We don’t yet know what the overall figures look like, and we won’t be able to tell for a few years the extent of the long-term effect on our personhood as individuals or as a society. These are very tough times for everyone across all races and spheres of life. Despite the difficulty, it is time to press into change and innovation, to address challenges in real-time and curb disturbing trends before they can be described as willful negligence.
Here are two possibilities:
Address Unconscious Bias within the UK’s healthcare industry. A short term solution could make an incredible amount of difference in the immediate circumstances. I’m not suggesting the NHS shuts down for a 24 hour period to re-train staff, as Starbucks did when a member of their US staff was caught on video displaying extreme bias against a couple of black patrons. I am however suggesting that something can be done to help both medical and non-medical staff address and avoid occurrences like the one described in this The Independent newspaper article.
Raise unemployed and self-employed support, to reflect full-time minimum wage across the country. Black people are typically financially unstable with a high rate of unemployment. The recession brought on by Coronavirus has led to hiring freezes and lay-offs across the country. Without the expectation of a somewhat immediate return to normalcy, even a short-term boost similar to that being provided for furloughed and self-employed workers could be an effective way to support groups, like the Black population, who are more likely at risk of financial ruin.
With all of that said, I recognise the privilege I have in writing this post, speaking into the void without any responsibility or ability to affect change in these circumstances. I wholeheartedly applaud everyone working day in and day out on providing solutions to the problems they perceive and prioritise.
It is my hope that as more people use their platforms to voice their concerns about the trajectory of this goings-on, we may collectively affect the direction of the discussions in the rooms where power is wielded.
Bayo Adelaja | Chief Do-er at Do it Now Now | This is how I got here