Living in a Coronavirus world has been strange to say the least. Everything feels weirdly distant and Orwellian and there’s no denying that the effects of the pandemic have affected every aspect of life globally, more so for certain individuals.
From the very beginning, at the initial rise of the pandemic, it seemed that the virus, although affecting everyone, had hit POC the hardest. Not only are we disproportionately hit, but we also face a much deeper rooted issue in the system that has always been present. Due to the system and the destructive, racist mind-set that’s more common than you may think, vital questions are raised: Is covid-19 the only virus POC are facing? Or is there a much deeper one, one that amplifies the hardships that POC and oppressed groups face every day?
When I think about all this, Belly Mujinga is a name that comes to mind. Belly was a ticket officer working amidst the circling of the pandemic who died from COVID-19 after being spat on by a man who claimed he had the virus. Belly didn’t die at just the expense of the virus, but the catalyst for this was a much deeper hate crime from a man she didn’t know. Belly Mujinga was a mother and a wife, and her name must not be forgotten.
Upon speaking to BAME people, a clear pattern is evident, especially with East Asian individuals who feel that many aspects of life amidst the pandemic have become increasingly difficult. Obviously, life in this period has become increasingly difficult for everyone. But those of Asian descent have come to face both the hardships of the pandemic and the casual stereotyping linking the virus to Asian people. Other POC have also expressed concerns of being overtly linked to the virus.
The reasoning behind this could be due to the attachment the western world has between uncleanliness and race through deeper colourist issues. Whiteness has always been attached to purity and cleanliness. This stigmatisation has always existed. It’s scarily common for POC to be ashamed of where we’re from because the countries we come from are often wrongly painted to be unclean. I myself have always found this strange because I feel that growing up my culture prioritizes cleanliness first over everything else. If you look at Muslim majority countries, it’s clear that cleanliness is signified through the performance of ‘Wudu’ before Islamic player. This mind-set between race and uncleanliness due to colourism has always lingered on the surface. Just think back to previous pandemics including HIV and Ebola, which led to discrimination towards black people.
The spike in hostility towards the Chinese community has badly affected Chinese businesses, which almost has a domino effect as it’s statistically clear that POC face poverty at a large percentage, and this only makes the conditions of the virus more extreme for these communities.
The racism has even spread to other Asian communities, not just Chinese communities, and it seems that most POC are increasingly becoming victims of microaggressions and casual racism. When speaking to my POC friends, they also share similar experiences. Many feel that online abuse in particular has increased and in one instance they were labelled as a ‘second class citizen’.
The media has played a huge role in this as well. The Sun recently reported that “Half of UK imported cases originate from Pakistan”, which is completely untrue. In fact, they were forced to correct it based on the true fact – “Half of the UK's imported corona virus since June 4 originate from Pakistan – numbering thirty in total.” Why weren’t any dates mentioned? Where are the numbers? Where is the source for this data? The Telegraph and The Daily Mail also put up similar headlines. There is clearly an intention to mislead and fuel tension towards already severely mistreated POC individuals. When powerful figures like Trump endorse an anti-China belief, it impacts people’s attitudes and beliefs, and this outbreak has highlighted the inequalities that have always existed. When looking at the report showing that a higher percentage of BAME people are dying from the virus disproportionately, it cannot just be simply due to genetics, and it’s more than clear now that the issue is bigger than that.
Many blame pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and worse immune systems. Social and economic factors are obviously significant, especially as many BAME work in high-risk areas as essential workers, and it’s statistically proven that households between these communities are more densely populated. Reports have shown that health inequalities link directly to economic factors. Although that’s a valid reasoning, there is a deeper underlying systemic issue regarding the link between POC and how it is more difficult for these communities to climb up the ladder from economic and social inequality.
Recently, the UK delayed the report showing the statistics ‘because of the situation in America’, almost as a way of admittingly indicating that the stats showing the disproportionate rates between white middle class and NAME is due to not just simply genetic factors, but a deeper structural and systemic issue.
It was found that people of Bangladeshi background face the largest risk of dying from the disease. The risk of death is double that seen among white British people according to the Public Health Review. Why are Black and POC dying at significantly higher rates than our white counterparts? Why do POC individuals fill such a large percentage of occupations that are at high risk? It’s all related. This creates more concern for both the safety of POC communities through all aspects of life. In 2019, a report showed that black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy compared to white counterparts. When it comes to education, there is a 13 percent attainment gap between students of colour and their white counterparts.
The list can continue, and I could bring out reams of data and analysis which illustrate clear disparities between communities. But the questions are, how do we address these issues? What can our government do? And what can we do?
By Ilma Rashid