By Tony Wafford
In a recent speech at Emory University, Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed what the Black community has been saying for years about considering the health of Blacks in this country. Dr. Fauci said, “the undeniable effects of racism” have led to unacceptable health disparities that especially hurt African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. A new study estimates that the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. is more than 900,000, 57% higher than official figures. Nationwide, Black people have died at 1.4 times the rate of white people. We’ve lost at least 73,462 Black lives to COVID-19 to date. Black people account for 15% of COVID-19 deaths where race is known.
Some say that our numbers are high because many Black people are known as “essential workers.” Isn’t it strange that it took a pandemic for many in this country to see the value in everyday workers? I guess it’s like toilet paper; you don’t respect the value of it until it’s time to wipe.
I was in Chicago recently to promote the ACTIV-2 Rise Above Covid treatment trial and met with several African American organizations to promote ACTIV-2. I believe that all Black people are essential—working or not. Now that the data, facts, and truth has been exposed because of Covid-19, maybe now the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and every other governmental agency will do more to address medical conditions of inequalities in our health care system. Let’s use this to address hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health, and racism, all of which play and continue to play a significant role in the genocide of Black people in this country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Of all the inequities, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and egregious.”
I would argue that almost all comorbidities in Black people relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that many Blacks find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to healthcare, and the undeniable effects of racism in our society and the world. So, the question now is, what do we do to correct these sad, sick, and social wrongs? Let us start by NOT going back to normality or “business” as usual. Normalcy and business, as usual, is providing a placebo to address infectious diseases, disproportionate hospitalization, and the death of Black people in this country as somehow their fault, or as Malcolm X once said, “Charging the victims with the crime.”
Normality and business as usual, is to overlook the data, the facts, and the truth and not put adequate resources in the Black community to address its issues in our unique way. Which, by the way, may not be evidence-based by European standards but effective within the culture. The Black community must stay on high alert because June 15th will not be a magical miracle date for the masses of Black people in this country. June 15th will be a celebration for people in wealthier neighborhoods because they can move on with life as usual as if the pandemic were over. But for the poor and oppressed, it’s not over; pray that it’s not the beginning of a much more devastating issue for Black, Brown, and poor whites.
According to the Los Angeles Times ‘ vaccination tracker, it’s not over by any means when right here in California, statewide, 65% of Black Californians haven’t been vaccinated. According to the Times analysis, it’s not over when countywide, 68% of Black residents have yet to receive a single shot.
After June 15th, the Black community will still need public service announcements on Black radio and in Black print proclaiming that “we’re not there yet,” despite claims at the beginning that we’re all in this together. Depending on the government’s response after June 15th will be even less true. Fauci got it right when he said, “correcting societal wrongs will take a commitment of decades.” So, governmental agencies, let’s not take your foot off the gas because White Americans are doing better, then question the underserved’s ability to help themselves.
Here’s how we keep our foot on the gas. We must practice ethics of care and responsibility for the ill and vulnerable among us. This is central to our spiritual and ethical tradition as followers of God. There was never a time needed to do this more than now in this devastating crisis. We must urge other leaders and organizations, especially our religious institutions, to take up this issue in a serious and sustained manner by holding forums, speaking out, organizing, and mobilizing the community to the importance of the vaccine and treatment trials for Covid-19.
Continue to build a national conversation around Covid-19 and all the other health inequities in the Black community. We must urge testing as a critical strategy for detection and prevention of the spreading of Covid-19. Testing is vital for those of us that live and work in high-risk environments. We need more resources to deal with this horrible crisis, as the color of the victims went from White to Black and Brown; let’s not let the resources dwindle and dry up. Let’s keep our foot on the gas!
For decades, Tony Wafford has worked as a community activist to address disparities in disease rates among people of color. During the first months of the pandemic, Wafford lost 5 famly members in one week. He currently serves as a member of the Rise Above COVID Community Advisory Board.