Black Women Face Extra Coronavirus Burden
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there’s a reason Black people often feel “untouchable.”
By Joshua Eferighe
Check out a special edition of OZY’s Black Women OWN the Conversation focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the African American community. These episodes bring together real women and a curated panel of experts, professionals and doctors with host Carlos Watson for a timely discussion on how we are living during the pandemic. The second special airs Tuesday, April 21, at 11 p.m. (10 p.m. CST) on OWN. Join the conversation at #BlackWomenOWN on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
“This is deadly,” Richelle Williams says sternly. The 67-year-old New Jersey funeral home owner has been explaining to the virtual room of Black women from all over the country how fatal “our people’s” ignorance has been. Thus far, Williams has not been burying just one person in a family, but entire families, week after week.
“My folks — our folks — think that they are untouchable. But guess what? Now I am burying those who thought they were untouchable,” Williams reveals on the second special edition of OZY’s Black Women OWN the Conversation, airing on OWN on Tuesday at 11 p.m. EST.
The Black community has been disproportionately affected by the virus. A data analysis by Mother Jones found that in 20 of the 28 states that provided usable racial data, Black people make up a larger share of coronavirus infections than they do of the general population.
Behind the data are human stories, explored in depth by host and OZY CEO Carlos Watson, who was joined for this socially distanced episode — shown via Zoom rather than with a live audience — by Dr. Altha Stewart, chief of social and community psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis; Dr. Uché Blackstock, a Brooklyn-based physician and CEO of Advancing Health Equity; and Mikki Kendall, an activist and author of Hood Feminism.
We’ve taught our society that the oppression they can experience can kill them.
Mikki Kendall, activist
As experts and participants reveal in often emotional testimony, the numbers have a direct correlation to systemic hurdles that African Americans face every day. When Williams alludes to African Americans believing they are untouchable, Kendall explains why they may think so: because they have to. “We’ve taught our society that the oppression they can experience can kill them,” Kendall says. For playing in a park, for being asleep on a couch, for simply existing as a person of color, Black people in America are tasked with overcoming what seem like insurmountable odds every day simply to live.
So, as Kendall breaks it down, when we tell Black people that COVID-19 can kill them and they should stay home, what they hear is “hunger can kill me, whatever dangers in my house can kill me, police can kill me.” This “risk” that is so new for most of us is simply just another risk on a long list that Black people face on a daily basis.
That risk-taking has a way of compounding family tensions that are spiking amid lockdown orders. Take Nicole Creshon. The 33-year-old New Orleans native has been forced to co-parent with the father of her child who is in and out of the house because they are no longer romantically involved. And now his comings and goings put both Creshon, who is asthmatic, and their special needs daughter at risk. While she acknowledges that she’s fortunate to have a civil relationship with her ex, he’s “like a third child,” she says, when it comes to the help she expects him to provide while he’s in her house.
For Debra Greenwood, 68, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, quarantine has pushed her 24-year relationship with her wife past the point of no return. “There’s a lot of separation where she is in the front of the house and I’m in the back of the house,” Greenwood tells the virtual gathering. However, she also reveals that she and her wife still get together to binge-watch Greenleaf, which is more than what many women who live alone have.
That’s the case for Felicia Stokes, a 41-year-old single entrepreneur in New Jersey who says the BWOTC experience is the most normal she’s felt in weeks, since the stay-at-home orders began and her interaction with others has been limited to people at the grocery store. With the majority of her family in Dallas, Stokes has become closer with her neighbors — and has started thinking more about where her support network will come from now. “When you’re a single Black woman and you’re always handling things, people always think, ‘She’s got it; she’s good,’” Stokes says. “But I’ve always shown up for the weddings, the baby showers, the christenings, and it’s five or six of them and one of me. Who’s checking for me?”
It’s a question Stewart says is worth everyone asking. “As Black women, one of the things we’ve got to do now, which is more important than ever before, is learn to ask for what we need,” she says. The answers won’t be easy, but in a virtual room of supportive women sharing a moment amid a crisis, broaching the question goes a long way.