No one wants to hear more unpleasant news in the wake of the coronavirus. This pandemic has had a devastating effect on all Americans. It has wrecked our economy, and our health system is near a breaking point. Confusion concerning social distancing and stay-at-home orders from the federal government and the states is problematic. Confusion concerning the availability of coronavirus tests and the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital workers and doctors is often deadly. All of this is happening while Americans are dying from this virus.
Most troubling is the impact this pandemic is having in the black community. While coronavirus is an equal-opportunity virus, its impact in our black community is horrific. Black Americans are not concerned at this time about the Democratic or Republican parties, the fine points of Federalism or the 10th Amendment, nor are they concerned with who is blameworthy for this disparate impact. Black Americans are concerned about life and death.
Most fearful for black Americans is the crazy talk about sacrificing human life for the benefit of the U.S. economy. The lieutenant governor of Texas suggested that senior citizens and those at risk of contracting the virus should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the benefit of the U.S. economy and our way of life.
Experts on infectious disease inform us that people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma and hypertension are more vulnerable to contracting the virus. We know which group those pre-existing conditions are most prevalent in — my family and those of most black families in this country. To those who want to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the U.S. economy, I say speak for yourself. It would be immoral for a government to invoke god-like power to decide who shall live and who shall die, who are the most valued citizens and who are expendable. I fear that those of us who are most vulnerable to this virus will be the first to get sick and the first to let die if such a policy is adopted by the U.S. at this time. To equate the value those of us who have reached senior status with some health issues to the stock market is risky business.
Why are black Americans suffering from these preconditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus? Is it because we consume too much salt and sugar? Is it because we do not exercise or is it because of conditions beyond our control? Dr. Mandy Cohen N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that it is because of “structural racism. “ I think that means health disparities have long existed in our country. Many blacks do not have a primary doctor. Many are uninsured. Many when faced with a medical condition allow it to deteriorate before going to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. Many are suspicious and distrustful of the health care system because of centuries of nonconsensual invasion and unwanted experiments on their bodies.
We know from preliminary reports that 72% of the people who have died from the virus are black. In Louisiana, the percentage of black deaths to this virus is 20% and in Michigan the percentage is 40% and in other parts of the country black deaths are reported at a higher percentage.
The president and the vice president of the U.S. announced that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine would be used to treat 3,000 coronavirus patients in Detroit. This is an unproven drug for treating the coronavirus. Yet it will be tested in a city with a high percentage of black Americans. “What do they have to lose” says our president — our lives Mr. President.
This pandemic has shown all Americans and our economy what interdependence looks like. We can see clearly that we all are in this situation together. The frontline workers including the bus drivers, EMTs, nurses, lab technicians, orderlies and custodians are essential in this effort to stop the spread of this virus. Many of them are black Americans with pre-existing conditions. Yet they continue to show up every day for work to help those who have contracted the virus, oftentimes without sufficient personal protective equipment. Many are working for minimum wage, without health insurance and without any kind of sick leave policy available to them.
I trust that when this pandemic passes, America will see that in times of crisis in this country black America steps up to the plate and does its part. Even when it becomes clear that this crisis has exposed for all to see what neglect and inequality has done to the health of black Americans. I trust that when this pandemic passes on that the health care disparities in the black community will be addressed.
I am hopeful that America would heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 when he said: “Whatever affect one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” In this regard, black American lives do matter.
Randolph Baskerville is a Henderson resident and retired judge.