Malaika Horne

There’s usually a bit of grimacing and wincing when the media puts out bad information about African Americans. This time it’s about the disproportionate number of blacks falling prey to COVID-19. In these moments, you kind of wish for a bit of code-switching.

All Americans are dying in record numbers. The virus is blind to color, class or any other differences with no borders. You could be a CEO of a multinational corporation or someone down on your luck; if you’re exposed, you’re at risk. The fact that blacks are more likely to be infected doesn’t mean others don’t get it. 

Yet, inequality is a comorbidity – a serious medical and social condition compounding the problem. For example, it’s more difficult for blacks to social distance because a disproportionate number live, work or transit in more densely populated areas. Many are essential workers who don’t have the privilege to work from home. Nevertheless, the virus has brought into sharp relief widening inequality. 

At one point, the conventional notion was that the drug epidemic was primarily a black problem and could be contained in urban areas. But unbeknownst to many, the drug scourge was wreaking havoc in the suburbs and rural areas. When is the last time you heard someone say that drug abuse is a black problem? 

Communicating bad news about people of color is like walking a very tricky line between the facts and reinforcing negative stereotypes, the core of institutionalized racism. Panic triggered by fear can quickly erupt from the deep dark recesses of the mind, historically imbedded with myths and misinformation of African Americans as diseased and pathological. Nor are Africans spared with historical and current images and messages rife with death and violence. Recall Trump recently referring to African countries in a very contemptible and disrespectful way.   

It’s uncanny that the recent media barrage about the high rate of COVID-19 for blacks was followed by the 45th president calling for lifting public health orders in states led by Democratic governors, going against his own medical specialists advising stay-at-home orders. Is Trump crazy like a fox? Perhaps. Or is he such a dunce, putting his gullible gut instincts before science and data? 

His recent deranged tweets called for his base to “LIBERATE” themselves. Like shock troopers, riled-up, marauding, MAGA-hat-wearing, gun-toting Trumpians took to the streets. They caused gridlock traffic, stormed state capitols and disregarded CDC guidelines, such as social distancing. They’ve obviously fallen prey to his hypnotic spell. Even worse, they put the public more at risk.  

Unencumbered by consequences, they displayed makeshift signs as if they were the victims, such as “Let thy People Go” and comparing themselves to civil rights activist Rosa Parks. In St. Louis County one protester held up a sign: “I’d rather die than be a slave.” Trump slyly explained that people want to go back to work, despite jeopardizing public health and safety.  

In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker said he’s worried that these protests could lead to violence that could be more virulent that the disease itself. Shocking the conscience even more was the preposterous proposal of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, who alarmingly called for people (like sheep) to step up to the sacrificial alter, offering their lives for the sake of future economic prosperity. 

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Trump’s daily press briefings are wearing thin, described as a proxy for his political rallies, full of meandering lies and unclear messaging while misleading and confusing the public. Sadly, cases and deaths have not sufficiently plateaued. Deaths also continue to mount in Missouri.  

The flip-flopper in chief said recently that he disagrees with Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, who – apparently doing the president’s bidding – had announced a massive reopening of the state. As the mad-king romps and stumps, there’s no end in sight. 

But what is in sight is the consistent messaging of blacks as the wedge issue to sow seeds of dissension among the masses.  

Malaika Horne, PhD, is a book author, journalist and academic writer with a post-doctorate in epidemiology. 

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