By Yolanda D. White
Spoiler! In case you were hankering for another piece, romanticizing the current health crisis, this “epic pandemic” that murders without a conscience, this will not be it. I hasten to even speak its name, heretofore, I will abbreviate, when it is my choice. We are assaulted by viewing a plethora of (mis) information, “floating data and funky facts” about this dis ease’s impact on our culture, economy, and most importantly our very own lives. I will allow those who specialize in numbers to share numbers, real “data ” about Black people and the Corona Virus Disease 2019, abbreviated COVID-19. Mines is a motley view to include features and Q and A’s. I visit some strong “Hows,” to the question, how do we go on from here? An assumption I believe is true is, historically, Blacks/African-Americans, in the United States, have been consistently charged with overcoming insurmountable odds. We are challenging deadly numbers, banding together, paying it forward and learning how to live again, starting with me.
Blow the whistle. At least that is what one former vaccine director is seeking to do, right now. Most would agree, a resounding whistle does need to be blown, directly at the virus itself and the terror it has inflicted, globally. Obviously, there are no shortages of articles, videos, and social media posts of Black Americans, locally and abroad; suffering and struggling in staggering amounts, despite Dr. Rick Bright warned, “to prepare and invest early in making sure critical supplies existed to save American lives for coronavirus,” way back in January of this year.
Instead of support from the government, his concerns caused a political “shit storm,” as reported by CNN. But this is not an article about Dr. Bright nor his Whistleblowing complaint, at all. I trust the old mantra, what is done in the dark, will always come to light [sooner or later]. In this country, it seems, we always have to assign blame–first.
I was born in Kingston, New York, I have not visited since. I was only 6 months old, I remember nothing. For years, I have been planning to go “Home” and this year for my 50th Birthday in July, just to see where I was born upstate and slide down and get a load of the City. I was surefooted. I’ve long felt an affinity and a sense of shared souls with New Yorkers, though I had not touched the soil since 1970. I admired their “rumored” grit, passion and “give it to me straight” personalities and their passion. Now, I silently and awkwardly mourn lives there that have ended in such cataclysmic ways. Selfishly, I wonder if I will be able to visit. God knows.
Governor Andrew Cuomo relentlessly campaigns for more testing in minority communities and more data research, immediately.
“Why is it that the poorest people always pay the highest price?” Cuomo asked. “Are more public workers Latino and African-American, who don’t have a choice, frankly, but to go out there every day and drive the bus and drive the train and show up for work and wind up subjecting themselves to, in this case, the virus?”
The gregarious governor poses a duzy, perhaps rhetorical question. Inquiring minds desperately need to know.
“He is on top of his work and he stands by his word. He doesn’t sell people fluff,” Esther Minton confirmed about Cuomo.
She is a 43 year-old Black Woman with such sleek flair and regal style, from head to feet; hardly looks like she is into Metal. In her third year of a five year apprenticeship program, she is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 28 in metropolitan New York and Long Island.
“I do different things with metal, architectural, water proofing, roofing, siding, and enclosures. Sometimes were known for duct work installation in private homes or commercial buildings. But I haven’t done that, yet.”
When asked how work has changed, she wasn’t hesitant.
“For me I haven’t missed much work. Before this all started, I rented a car and drove to see my Mom in Georgia. On the way back to New York, there were so many detours, resulting in a $900 rental car bill. I couldn’t return the car where it was convenient…had to drive out of the way, because closures were just starting.
When I got home, March 27th, I came back to no job, the entire state was closed. In the construction industry, at first, we were essential, then not. Now, we are essential, only if the project we are working on is essential and the company needs workers.
I was only out for a week, and I got called in. I felt that a lot of guys did not want to go back to work so soon because they had wives and families at home. I worked for two weeks and then was out again. While I was on the site, I worked with the most space around me than I have ever had. There were accessible and multiple wash stations, soap, paper towels, and clean functioning bathrooms! We fight for these things on a daily basis, but usually funding was an issue, until now.
On a regular workday, before this, an N95 Mask and work gloves were standard PPE. Now you can’t find a mask, not a good one, you blow a candle out through these masks they are giving out lately. They did give us a respirator (mask) which works best if it is fitted to you. I couldn’t be fitted for mine because of two answers I put on an earlier form. I was ineligible.
New York really needs to work with New Yorkers to make decisions on what we are going to do to stop living in fear and come up with a real, realistic plan to open this State up. There are a lot of us here, and a lot of us that rely on public transportation. There are so many people living in fear it is ridiculous. People are dying here but people are dying everywhere. I stopped watching the news everyday. I literally just stopped. I instructed my friends to stop talking to me about every person that died and how many people have died. I told them, It’s not good for your mental. Don’t research another person who died, let’s be honest, white people are still killing black people. Let’s talk about researching people who have not contracted the virus. And who is checking on the abused kids and women trapped in their homes, daily?
My focus is on keeping in touch with friends and family and talking to my Mom and a few zoom meetups. I want to see things about other “news” besides this virus, we know people are going to die. But this is not the only thing that is happening right now. Nowadays, I choose to watch an update from my Mayor or my Governor, but that is pretty much it.
If I had a PA System, I’d tell the world, do not live in fear, know that we will get back to black, this is not how it ends and there is more to this life. Catch other important news showing in the background, pay attention to your mental health. Take this time to thoroughly consider when the world opens up again, if you are going back to the jobs you said you hated. Decide if you’re going to stay doing what you love or go reinvent yourself. Live with it either way — it is ok.”
In North Carolina, the state where both of my parents were born, a state where I have always associated summer vacations, “hospitable” people and weather/nature marvels. I am haunted knowing the souls of many black men remain invisible. As of last about a week ago, 1,086 black people had tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Damon Tweedy, author of the New York Times bestseller, Black Man in a White Coat, specializes in Psychiatry & neurology – in Durham, North Carolina. He sees the health crisis as an “opportunity” to finally address the black man’s mental and physical, total (holistic) healthcare. He encouraged Black men to be open to therapy, even seek it out. Tweedy went on to give strategies on how to tell if one’s mental health is in jeopardy.
A Milwaukee-based psychotherapist and Clinical & Executive Director at TransformationServices, Inc., Dr. Ingrid D. Hicks, concurs — slightly.
“Black men are open to therapy. They just seek it out in different forms. Black men don’t seek help in traditional settings. They talk to people, they know they trust. They’ll talk to their buddies [not strangers]. They have to feel a comradery and a sense of comfort. Men in general aren’t talkers. Black men, even less so, and for reasons old and new. Gee’s Clippers Barber and Beauty Salon, right here, is an example of a novel community model of healing our men. From time to time, Gee’s is host to informal but healing, clinically led conversations, inspired by black men… just conversing. It opens the door to greater and further healing, which is huge.”
Is this “thing” really an opportunity?
“An increase in online teletherapy may make more Black Men seek care, especially if there is discomfort or mistrust with Doctors or the Institution , face to face. Moving forward, more people will be in their own houses, not feeling a perceived stigma of “going to see someone.” Men are not necessarily drawn to therapy, they’ll talk to their buddies. Using technology, this way, is a game changer. The online horse is out of the barn and gone. And if I had to pick beef with people, there is too much complaining and not enough creativity. Yes, there needs to be a period of grief, yes. And there needs to be a period of healing. For people who experience significant PTSD [Trauma] “this” can be an excuse to shut down and give in. I hope not.
Actress Taraji P. Henson also hopes not. In the midst of coronavirus frenzy, she has created free online therapy services, targeted to African Americans. ABC News Live shared her inspiration for starting the campaign, to help people suffering in isolation. She reported, 71% of her applicants have been women and 6% have been men. Dr. Hicks has a theory.
“Women are routinely offered therapeutic help for other critical life issues, domestic violence, child protective service issues.
What in the whole wide world is going on in Wisconsin?
I am most concerned about the homeless population. I am concerned about people living in the zip code 53206. I am concerned about those who just didn’t believe they could become infected. They bought into the “hype” of not watching news (or believing all or none of what they saw). Whether it’s on the individual or community support was not provided or not enough.
I have lost extremely close friends, not here in Milwaukee but in Flint, Michigan, my hometown. My first mentors are gone, those I looked up to when I didn’t know which way to go.
Are you working/training counselors differently?
Our students can receive education and training credentials in counseling to enter the field of mental health in Wisconsin. As it is, some can do so in 90 days. People, in general, have been moving differently because they have been affected/infected by bad information, poor information or no information at all, in time. We teach people to think of rising up from the norm, and receive from different streams. Once our students (ex-offenders, people with substance and alcohol abuse histories are those recovering from their own trauma…upon trauma; likely their first opportunity to tell their story — as a clinician — which allows them to heal and then heal others.
How are you Minding Your Business?
That is my lens from which I see. Anyone who is in business is driven to be there to pivot through situations like this. While life happens, I still have a company to run. I am not callused. I’ve heard the mantra, everybodys got to go, but not based on politics.
It also depends on who you are and what you subscribe to — rhetoric of New Normals, Putting this in our rear view and never thinking again and even Biblical implications. This is not the first time we have been in Virus Crisis. HIV, various forms of the flu virus. But we are now in a situation where we had to shelter in place. That didn’t happen with HIV, and some other less contagious forms of flu.
We have alway been a nation who moves forward, because that is how life is. You have to. People who were born with resilience are not having problems sleeping because they have plans to get through each and every day. This is not to say not to say they won’t have bad days; these are the people that are going to make it. Our People are born with it. I love our people, I say we have more resilience in our DNA.
Get up is what I say, life is going on. I enjoy some of the talk shows, but I leave it behind. When they are over and I’ve read the paper, I’m done with it. It does not identify me as a total person. My husband is a bit older than me and is a little more nervous because he has some pre-existing conditions. I encourage him to be safe, but to go out, with a mask. That is going to be the outfit.
How did I get here?
“What’s the blackest city in Arizona? Maricopa took the number one overall spot for the largest Black population in Arizona for 2020,” according to Chris Kolmar of Road Snacks. Specific race information pertinent to the corona virus was not tracked, until the last week or so.
Relatively newish, I have only lived here for the last six years — straight outta Milwaukee. Family got me here, and I think I kind of like it here! Even though the total Black population is 286,614 – 4.1% of the total population of Arizona. It can already feel isolating.
Terrence Culver is a 39 year old, middle school language arts teacher and father of three. Originally, he was made in Texas, but in 2006 he found neighboring Phoenix a fine place to teach and be a student. Back then, he had a best friend here and no children at the time. “I had just gotten back from playing basketball overseas, had no kids back then, and thought why not Arizona? As for “this” new COVID-19 life, I’m adjusting. With this, I don’t miss anything with my one year old daughter, Adrienne. That is a trade off that was never expected. Sometimes, I am working at home and she wants to snuggle. I can grab her and do that. She is reaching so many milestones, starting to play with blocks and stack them. I am able to witness it first hand. I get good sleep and am ready to go, everyday! Working from home is the biggest change but I love it! I need a dedicated home office to be more efficient. Or maybe I just want peace and quiet.
You definitely have more of your immediate family close to you during these times. While I have not lost anyone near and dear to me, that may change soon. My grandmother is currently going back and forth between ICU and regular care. So my family and I are kind of bracing ourselves for it. Old age comes for us all.
I have been teaching myself another language, Spanish in my down time, now I can do that. I’ll read from CNN Espanol or watch Telemundo, transcribe and have time to interact and I learn. I am doing something that I can benefit from. I’m also catching up on some TV shows, like Revenge on Amazon prime.
Do you think you will appear threatening, with a mask?
First of all , I don’t really go anywhere. If I have to go out for necessity sake, I put a mask on, regardless. I got scared right when this whole thing started happening. I used to get scared of getting the flu, so this definitely does bother me. I used to go to my Mom’s every Sunday for dinner, she’s lived in North Phoenix since 2008, her health isn’t the greatest. I do worry that if I do go out and something happens and I pass that along to her or to my wife Cheryl’s parents. I would feel unbearable guilt, hurt, shame. Leaning on one another is my reliable go to method of coping. When each other is all you got, that’s what you do. We can fix this, by voting, also just good ‘ol fashion common sense.
When I think about my hometown, Dallas, it was an enjoyable place to live, they do a lot well. I’m well placed in Phoenix, as a teacher though, I think I am more in the role of helper. Not that I have a lot to give, but definitely there are now more ways to support students and families. I wouldn’t mind a little help myself though. I can just take mine in the form of additional zeros and commas in the bank account!
I reached out to a friend in Wisconsin to take a different kind of pulse on Milwaukee. He wasn’t there, rose up and his family moved to Texas. When I first met him in 2003, he was one of, if not Milwaukee’s finest, a leader in Hip/Hop and Rap entertainment and first automotive dealership, 414 Motor Cars. He continues, regardless of geographic location, striving for his goals. In Dallas, Texas he continues small businessmanship as the CEO of Whipteam LLC.
How is for you, a black man thriving, grinding, while so many other black men are dying?
You just got to stay safe. I know I must eat healthy, stay clean, exercise and just avoid as much of the hype as possible.
Are you scared? Are you wearing a mask for yourself or for others?
A lot of places require you to wear a mask, even when the whole city is back open, I will wear a mask and social distance best I can. I tend not to go out in crowded places, still.
Do you think people are more afraid of you now, that you’re wearing a mask?
No because they’ll shoot you with or without a mask. It doesn’t matter but it may give them a faster reason to shoot and claim they were scared.
You say that with such calm and flatness. How do you stay calm?
Music is my first love, writing, producing, finding and fostering talent in others. But, you know where I come from, 18th and Locust, in Milwaukee, I’ve been around the police and scary situations all my life. You become numb to injustice, to the experiments. It makes you stronger of a person and not scared…prepared.
Which word resonates more with you as a man, black or African American?
I’m human. Honestly, if you claim a color they put you in a box.
Is everything really bigger in Texas?
Yes everything’s bigger in Texas and the hype is real.
In State Testing Data by Race, Johns Hopkins University pros tell us, “The intersecting forces of racial disparities, underlying conditions, and poverty [will] affect how the virus spreads throughout the United States.”
Others “data staticians” assure the public, just a small data sample can assist us in understanding how to better support those with infection and with death rates that are disproportionately high for their share of total population.
Andi Egbert is a senior researcher with the APM Research Lab, a nonpartisan research division of American Public Media. She is the lead analyst of their Color of Coronavirus project, where she has been analyzing and visualizing COVID-19 mortality data by race and ethnicity for all reporting states since early April.
How are You? You don’t need to be black to notice, something is amiss. How do you stay positive and informative and not angry?
Well, I do get angry and sad and fed up—often all at once—seeing the deep inequities in these data. How could you not? Through May 4, the mortality rate for Black Americans was 2.3 times higher than the rate for Asians and Latinos, and 2.6 times higher than the rate for Whites. I calculated that if Black Americans had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White Americans, about 9,000 of the nearly 15,000 Black residents who have died in these states would still be alive. And that’s so chilling thinking about—considering the dads, the grandmothers, the aunties, the coaches, the bus drivers, the grocery workers, the doctors, the caregivers of every stripe, musicians, preachers, someone’s best friend—all of these beloved people stolen from families and communities that wouldn’t have needed to die if we lived in a more equitable society.
I’m a solution-focused person by nature. So I’m always encouraged by communities and people who are living out Gandhi’s call to “be the change you wish to see in the world” and caring deeply and fiercely for each other. I try to do that in my own life and circles of influence. That said, individuals alone shouldn’t have this on their shoulders; structural change is needed to respond to systemic inequities. Though this data project is one of the most painful ones I’ve ever worked on as the deaths mount, I have also enjoyed connecting with new groups and individuals as passionate as I am about racial equity and health equity as our work at APM Research has gained more visibility. And personally, I have deep faith that death doesn’t mean the end of our story, which gives me hope.
Things look pretty dismal, what can we do to change the tide?
Seeing how COVID-19 has devastated the Black community is heartrending to me. My specialty is the data. At APM Research Lab, my colleagues and I are working to make the most robust national profile of what is happening to Black and other communities during this epidemic to hold up so that policymakers and practitioners and community members can respond. Obviously greater access to testing and protective gear and culturally competent health care is needed. In addition, we need more interventions in essential workplaces such plexiglass and protective gear and spacing and careful monitoring of potentially sick workers. Perhaps information campaigns in vulnerable communities and neighborhoods led by trusted messengers. And we need to see race and ethnicity data from all states and local health departments—we still have many blind spots to our understanding. Even just sharing the current data can catalyze action, when paired with efforts to hold community leaders accountable to it. Some cities and states have formed COVID-19 equity task forces, to pool wisdom and focus their responses. I don’t know what all the best answers are, but I’m sure nothing isn’t one of them.
Data is incomplete, yet complete statements are being made. Who, and how do we trust what we see?
At the APM Research Lab, we take exceptional care with the numbers so that our audience will see us as trusted messengers on this topic. You’ll find lots of notes on our Color of Coronavirus project page about how we calculated rates and percentages, and where we have cautions.
Beyond our work, I’ve also found the COVID-related newsletters from Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security and Politico to be especially informative, and I also appreciate the data displayed at the New York Times that monitors how metros and states are being impacted. Marketplace has also been covering the economic impact of the virus with a very human lens. I also like Twitter and Instagram for hearing first-person reports of what’s happening in health care settings and communities and families that are not filtered by any media source.
As a researcher, it’s been frustrating to me to see how some states are reporting the data. For example, one state only releases the data at a very small link found at the bottom of their governor’s daily online press release, which opens a lengthy PDF where the data on deaths by race appears on page 34. And then only percentages are given, and by the way, it says, they represent a smaller percentage of the actual total. It’s almost like they don’t want us to find these statistics, you know? So there’s a lot of sleuthing to simply get the data and then some math to standardize it, such as taking out deaths with unknown races, so we can actually see what’s going on across the country. And as of May 5, 12 states are still not releasing any data on COVID deaths by race. Meanwhile some states such as Texas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have racial information available for only about half or fewer deaths. And if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were releasing this data, we wouldn’t have to rely on patchwork and sometimes poor data from states. But the APM Research Lab is glad to play this role in educating the public about COVID’s impacts as it’s happening—hopefully so lives may be saved.
Inequities were present, now a light is shining on them, Dr. A Fauci reported. Do you agree? Why?
Absolutely. COVID’s deaths hold a mirror up to America’s face once again and show how, on the whole, Americans of different races live largely different lives. There is uneven and unfair access to COVID testing and health care more broadly, as well as housing, private transportation, white collar jobs that permit working from home, access to cleaning supplies or even water that’s not shut off for handwashing. Compared to Whites, Black Americans have higher rates of underlying conditions that can prove more deadly with COVID-19—asthma and high blood pressure and obesity, which we know can show up in a body due to complex interplay between stress and anxiety and neighborhood safety and housing stability and food access and environmental exposures over a lifetime. We need to focus on improving the social determinants of health that are responsible for most of what adds up to being healthy.
I probably don’t need to tell you that, in addition to Black Americans having higher rates of uninsurance and underinsurance compared to Whites, many African Americans have wariness or outright distrust with the health care system. This may stem from experience with substandard treatment, or having their pain or insights being discounted, of just the knowledge of some of America’s horrible chapters in health history, such as the 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis study. One research study found that Black men’s life expectancy fell by up to 1.5 years after the study was disclosed in 1972—so great was the damage to their trust that Black men stayed away from health interventions that could have saved their lives.
COVID brings all these inequities into sharp relief. The question is, what are we as a society, and as voters, going to do about it?
How Else? Who Else?
Dr. Lisa Cooper Bloomberg, School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity presents her ammunition for recovering from this begins with
- providing access to dormitories or hotel rooms for persons who don’t have a place to self-quarantine or for those who need somewhere to stay if others in their environment become ill
- enhancing the support of food pantries and meal delivery services or waivers of restrictions on food assistance
- fund childcare services, food, and educational resources for children whose parents are unable to provide these due to the economic hardship resulting from the pandemic
- Engage in meaningful actions to support these communities and protect public health could also include protective policies for workers, including paid sick leave and provision of health insurance, Medicaid expansions, and extending the enrollment periods for health insurance exchanges
- Policymakers should also work to make sure relief funds are available to the communities most in need by streamlining application processes and allowing for extensions of subsidies when the crisis begins to subside.
In Washington D.C., Bank of America just awarded a $1M grant to the Howard University Faculty Practice Plan to improve access to COVID-19 testing in the diverse Washington, D.C. communities located east of the river. They hope to add a mobile testing facility that would be able to go where needed and provide testing for people including those without the necessary doctor’s prescription for a test.
Michigan’s Celebrity chef Maxcel Hardy has joined forces with several other chefs in Detroit to help feed families living in shelters amidst the coronavirus pandemic. So far, they have produced over 20,000 meals in a single month. Responding!
ReNika Moore, Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, penned eight recommendations, three of them that can accessed locally, nationally or worldwide are
- Provide free testing and treatment for COVID-19 for all but especially in locations that are easily accessible to the most vulnerable, including Black communities
- Support workers organizing for better conditions and demand that any additional federal and state pandemic relief put people, not corporations, first. At a minimum, essential workers must receive hazard pay, free health care, paid family and medical leave and safety standards must be in place to protect them from COVID-19 and
- Collect and report accurate demographic data (including race) on rates of infection and outcomes.
Who? We, America
What can WE actually do, as regular people though? I will keep the query open, but so far, if you ask ME, we do something we’ve not done before. From right where we are — from shades of systemic sadness to sharing stories and strategies that continue to shed “tell-the-truth” light. No, we don’t know exactly how many, but we know that any is too many. Still we prepare – those who lost loved ones, jobs, and livelihoods for what is next, even though we don’t know what is next. We [I] can be a more effective connector of those who are able to help with those who need the help. Social Media is ok, but a telephone call feels, “a type of way.” We honor those who fought till their last breaths and in tandem share those stories as triumphant, full of valor — all worthy…all human. They too had joys before the tragic “surprise” and it all has to fuel us forward, not stuck in a weedy, muddy mess of dirty data.
Key people keep saying, “there is no magic bullet.” I say, “Ok, but maybe, there are magic bullets.
Black all Over
Sané Dube, Policy & Government Relations Lead at Alliance for Healthcare Communities in Toronto, supported the Canadian coalition of Black leaders in preparing a statement to the Chief Medical Officer of Health of one of their provinces, Ontario. She spoke of the keen, shared awareness that COVID-19 is really impacting Black communities in Canada. The letter and statement are strong advocates, because most provinces and territories in Canada did not, as a matter of routinely collect related data, either.
“This makes it hard to capture the experience fully,” she flatted.
The same leadership team who penned the statement, also wrote this letter, which contains an aria of “Hows.” Their writings resonated with me in an awfully profound way, excerpts convinced me, here or there, we as a people, are on an unfortunately familiar journey, with common themes:
“…Black people across Ontario are counted among the working poor, many of whom have lost employment as a result of the pandemic. As Black communities, we will continue to raise concerns about risks linked to racial profiling and COVID-19 policy creating pathways that will enable and maintain disproportionate representation of Black people in the criminal justice system. These outcomes are unacceptable. We urge policy makers and emergency response planning bodies to adopt a critical lens in implementing policies. COVID-19 responses should not further disenfranchise and harm already marginalized communities. There will be a time after COVID 19 and it would be devastating if not all can recover equally.”
That is the best case scenario, all over the world, an equitable, swift recovery. Living again, is all we can do. All children, our hopes for a better future, are watching!