The Pandemic Is Devastating to Black People. Here's What We Can Do About It - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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Because America's coronavirus response must address racial inequities in order to be effective.

By Kailee Scales

Check out a special edition of OZY’s Black Women OWN the Conversation, bringing together real women and a curated panel of experts, professionals and thought seekers from across the nation with host Carlos Watson for a timely discussion on how we are living in this unprecedented time. The first special airs Saturday, April 18, at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT and 10 p.m. PT on OWN.

Kailee Scales is managing director of Black Lives Matter Global Network.

For decades, we have been fighting to improve the material conditions of our lives. We have fought against and worked to overcome systemic racism, economic inequality and mass incarceration. Now, during a global pandemic, the impact of this bias is clearer than ever.

This virus is devastating to us. We are the essential workers who keep the country going; we are the mail carriers, delivery personnel, transportation providers and hospital workers. We cannot just #stayhome. Yet, we represent the vast majority of COVID-related deaths in Chicago, Louisiana and Michigan — Black people are dying at rates that are two and three times our population share — and that is only what we know right now. These numbers will increase as the virus continues to engulf our vulnerable communities.

We have never had access to adequate health care in our communities and many of us don’t even know we have the preexisting conditions the coronavirus feeds on. Our children historically suffer in our education system and are now at risk of falling further behind due to a lack of access to virtual education programs. The prison population, which is disproportionately Black, has deplorable and unsanitary conditions in which people must serve their time. There is no protection plan for incarcerated people, and many of them lack basic sanitary supplies. On top of that, incarcerated people are fundamentally unable to practice social distancing. Adequate testing is nonexistent for us, so we don’t know who has — and can spread — the virus.

We demand racial data on COVID-19 be collected, released and aggregated in order to provide essential information and resources targeted to our needs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that people with heart and lung conditions, asthma and other preexisting conditions are at high risk for contracting the coronavirus — and the stats are staggering:

  • Black children are 20 percent more likely than any other children to get asthma.
  • Black families are more than 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Black women are three times as likely to have lupus as white women.
  • People with sickle cell anemia are especially susceptible and vulnerable to respiratory viruses.

This is why we will keep fighting for the protection and provisions we need to live. We need every state and municipality to collect and release the demographic data on who is contracting and dying from this disease. The more we understand about the virus, the better equipped we will be to determine the resources and funding needed in communities hit hardest by the pandemic. We will continue to amplify and demand what we need in our communities. Specifically:

  • The CDC must aggregate and provide nationwide data about the impact of coronavirus on Black people.
  • The CARES Act must be targeted toward communities in need. Trillions of dollars are being spent while our people are not being cared for and are dying.
  • We need access to health care that is not tied to employment.
  • We need massive testing in our communities.
  • We need a protection plan for incarcerated people as well as bail reform and a decarceration plan.
  • We need adequate provisions for the poor and the working poor.
  • We need adequate leadership, clear communication from the government, and protections and provisions for our people.

That’s why we have started a petition. We demand that racial data on COVID-19 be collected, released and aggregated in order to provide essential information and resources targeted to our needs. Please sign the petition.

We will continue to shine a spotlight on the inequalities that continue to upend our communities. We will continue to demand our communities receive the resources and support we need. We will continue to fight for our lives.

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