The era of slavery was when white Americans determined that black Americans needed only the bare necessities, not enough to keep them optimally safe and healthy. It set in motion black people’s diminished access to healthy foods, safe working conditions, medical treatment and a host of other social inequities that negatively impact health.
This message is particularly important in a moment when African-Americans have experienced the highest rates of severe complications and death from the coronavirus and “obesity” has surfaced as an explanation. The cultural narrative that black people’s weight is a harbinger of disease and death has long served as a dangerous distraction from the real sources of inequality, and it’s happening again.
Reliable data are hard to come by, but available analyses show that on average, the rate of black fatalities is 2.4 times that of whites with Covid-19. In states including Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C., that ratio jumps to five to seven black people dying of Covid-19 complications for every one white death.
For YEARS I didn’t get a flu shot because my grandmother told us all about the one time she got one, and got sick for the one and only time in her entire life. I mean like I started getting the flu shot when I got pregnant, six and a half years ago. I was 38 years old, white and the daughter of a middle-class health professional, I went to college, I read books, I knew better, but: no flu shot for me, and even now, when I do get one, every year, somewhere in the back of my mind is my grandmother’s disappointment.
No voice is louder than that of family, ever, and yet we act like other people can just pick up and forget.
You can’t just walk away from what you created, ever. What stories did your grandparents tell? Mine talked about the Great Depression, about families with a dozen kids and no food, about orphanages and deprivation, making do and doing without. What the human body can survive is unbelievable. How hard we fight to stay alive, but that doesn’t mean any of it goes away. And we’re surprised there’s a retina burn on our history?
You’re staring straight into the sun now. What stories will the people most harmed by this tell their grandchildren, about deprivation, about want? About what they survived and what they had to do in order to do it, and who didn’t, and why? Those stories will determine the shape of their children’s worlds. It doesn’t even matter if they’re true, though I doubt anything is fiction anymore. I have no idea if my grandmother got sick from a flu shot; why would I look for proof? Her younger brother died of an infection today’s antibiotics would have cured in a week. Fear of want lurked beneath everything we did, though never for a day did we go without food.
There are aftershocks to every trauma; can you even begin to calculate what there might be, to something of this size?