The government’s shortcomings will cause the citizens’ uprising.
During the current pandemic in which we find ourselves, the ills of our society are being laid bare. BAME communities are at a disproportionately higher risk of dying due to COVID-19 than white communities. As of Monday 1st June 2020, news broke that the release of the highly anticipated government report which reviews the disparities in risks and outcomes of this virus was going to be delayed for the second time. The delay in its release was reportedly due to fears that it could fuel racial tensions across the country in light of current global events. Not even up to 24 hours later, this was turned around and the report was released with very little forewarning the following day. The implications of further delaying the release of this review would be disconcerting for our UK BAME communities, as well as those who are frontline workers, have pre-existing co-morbidities and more. Hence, upon the unexpected release of the government review, many people such as myself eagerly read it in hopes of being given some insight as to why we are seeing such disparities in outcomes in our communities.
Upon opening the report, the executive summary of the report made it very clear that it was a ‘descriptive review’ of the disparities seen in the risk outcomes from COVID-19 and that it was. A full break down of statistics showing the disparities seen in age, gender, socioeconomic deprivation, region, co-morbidities as well as ethnicity presented a picture of what was largely already known: older people, males, those living in more deprived areas, people with co-morbidities and people of minority ethnic backgrounds are seen to be at a disproportionately greater risk of dying due to COVID-19.
The review was in many ways thorough, as expected. However, rather interestingly its analysis of COVID-19 deaths in migrants saw Somalia being included as part of Central and Western Africa (Somalia is located on the horn of Africa which is east of the continent). This is a significant and frankly obvious oversight which could have been corrected with a look at a map of the African continent and begs the question of the cultural awareness of those analysing these data, only further exhibiting the need for more diverse representation in healthcare, research and analysis and public health. Additionally, the publication, although it looks into occupation and the risk of dying of COVID-19, fails to assess that of doctors among healthcare professionals or mention the high proportion (90%) of doctors who died from COVID-19 being from BAME Communities. It begs to question the reasoning behind omitting these data.
It seems that the review served only to further quantify that which has been reported by other studies and media outlets instead of trying to determine reasons as to why we see these disparities, leaving myself and others rather disappointed. As said in a statement released by the British Medical Association:
“It is a statistical analysis, which while important, gets us no closer towards taking action that avoids harm to BAME communities.”
This review was a missed opportunity to really delve into unpicking causes or contributing factors to disproportionate deaths among BAME Communities due to COVID-19. With no substantial actionable points to be taken away from this review, it gives no scope to effect change in our healthcare system which is evidently failing BAME communities. There have been multiple, albeit smaller scale, studies conducted in previous occasions which speak to racial discrimination and its impact on health outcomes - such as MBRRACE-UK. A high-profile review such as this on a health matter so contemporary as Coronavirus would have been a chance like few other in history to acknowledge like never before that racism is entrenched within our societal institutions. It comes to no surprise that, mere hours after the release of the review, news broke that a section of the review containing over a thousand contributions which alluded to discrimination and deprivation being a contributing factor to the observed outcomes in this pandemic was removed. By choosing not to include this section, the government continues to reject accountability for the racist structures perpetuated in our society and, conversely, upholds them. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, for as in the words of Audre Lorde:
“For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
The current socio-political climate is a direct challenge to this. Whilst having to live during a pandemic (as though living through a pandemic is not enough) being as much as 4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people in the UK, Black people have also had to deal with the unjust murder of our people, police brutality inflicted upon our communities both home and abroad, the police dismissal of the Belly Mujinga case, among many other things. Black communities are subjected to both covert and overt racism, we exist within societies that consistently oppress and dehumanise us. If only we could have the privilege to put that on hold and ignore it. We cannot. It is a burden we carry. It is taxing, agonising and we are tired. We have had enough of the systems we exist under subjecting us to such trauma and oppressing us at all levels. The very governments, justice systems and industries that are meant to serve, advocate for and protect us refuse to see us. Even in our healthcare system is racism revealed, from the lack of representation in our leadership all the way to the unequal quality of care given to Black patients. You will see our frustration. You will hear our cries for justice. You will feel our pain.
Neither the disparities observed during this current pandemic nor recent events are novel atrocities, but the current landscape has laid it bare to be confronted by all. While people disrupt orders and advocate for change, non-Black communities are now charged to either join the call for justice or sit back and continue to deny Black people of their humanity. To truly dismantle the master’s house, we need all people from all backgrounds to rise up and take a stand against these injustices. To be silent is to be complicit. As Angela Davis said:
"It is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist."
Listen to Black voices, get informed from Black resources and support Black organisations fighting against racial discrimination. Platform and champion the cause and hold those upholding these racist structures accountable.