“You know, black people can’t catch the coronavirus.”
Half-jokingly, I clung to these words in early March. Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support this claim, the hope of immunity echoed in my mind and wishful thinking captivated my thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, I considered, black people can finally catch a break.
Along with these inaccurate fragments of information, rumors of a shortened school year flitted around Oklahoma Christian during the weeks preceding spring break. Maskless and blissfully unaware of impending social distancing guidelines, many continued to plan for graduation parties and quintessential college road trips. Instead, we spent months at home spending time with family and watching Netflix.
Even though we are all back on campus, I still want to go back to my last moments at school to say proper goodbyes to seniors who would enter the adult world amid a depleting job market. I want to explore a once-crowded downtown Oklahoma City. But perhaps more than anything, I want to go back and plead with black people to stay at home, because we are dying at alarming and disproportionate rates.
I wish a warning sufficed to keep us sheltered in place. However, not every black person is afforded the privilege to stay at home. A quarter of America’s black population are essential workers, tasked with the job of keeping America afloat during this crisis. Combine this with the vast number of African Americans who have underlying health issues, live in food deserts and have limited access to healthcare. Death suddenly seems inevitable.
In addition to the lingering effects of residential segregation, the glaring racial gap between my white counterparts and I has become increasingly evident in past months.
A clear message perpetuated throughout the course of American history persists. As a black person, you can do everything perfectly based on societal standards. You can get a college degree and follow CDC guidelines. You can even give your life to public service. Regardless, you can experience racial profiling for wearing a mask. Still, doctors will not take your medical complaints seriously. You can be chased and killed for going on a jog or simply living in your home.
As it turns out, racism prevails, even during a pandemic.
Throughout April and May, white Americans protested across the country, an act mandated by the POTUS himself. Guns strapped across their chests as if going to war, these dissenters demand freedom and liberty, rights people of color crave.
Watching these demonstrations on the news, I could hardly comprehend the gall of these protestors. The audacity to threaten law enforcement with the presence of guns seemed dangerous and unimaginable.
Then, I remembered that for me, an African American female, this act is dangerous and unimaginable. I could never walk up to a government building with an AR-15 without law enforcement considering me as a threat.
Though some claim Barack Obama’s presidency invited a “post-racial” era, the pandemic has highlighted an immense double standard between races. Just because the world came to an astounding halt, for many, the fight for equity and justice continues at home.
Thousands ran 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arberry’s life. George Floyd’s death set the world on fire. A surge of inmates have contracted the virus, and minority business owners struggle to receive federal funds. While these issues and countless others worsen, politicians have managed to contort a public health issue into a political one.
With the transformation of the coronavirus into an issue based on solely partisanship and a racoking with the racial state of our country, the optimistic sense of American oneness and comradery has begun to dissapate.
I was wrong in March. Black people can catch the coronavirus, and we can’t catch a break.