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Fear not, coronavirus is colour blind

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You must have chewed over the stories about coronavirus killings more blacks than whites in God’s own country. And you must have wondered if this killer disease discriminates on the basis of colour. Diseases are supposed to be colour blind, although the medical sciences have good reasons to believe that because of the genetic make-up of the races, some diseases are more selective in the racial group they attack to kill.

Is coronavirus devastating lives and the economies of nations, one such disease? It would appear that the answer would be in the negative. The killer virus began its killing spree with the brown people and then took on the whites before adding the blacks. Still, if it kills more blacks than other racial groups, it would not be naïve to dismiss those who suggest that the horned one must be behind this latest attempt at birth control among black people, the one racial group that refuses to be persuaded that the divine injunction given to the Hebrew race to go out there and multiply and fill the earth has become anachronistic.

I have just read, with furrowed brows, an opinion piece by Jamelle Bouie, a columnist with The New York Times, on what appears on the face of it, to be a discriminatory attitude of COVID-19 towards the black skin. In the piece titled Why Coronavirus is killing African-Americans more than others, he wrote, “We know that COVID-19 is killing African-Americans at greater rates than any other group.” Anyone out there doubting this? Here is ample evidence provided by the columnist.

He wrote: “You must see this most clearly in the South. In Louisiana, blacks account for 70 per cent of the deaths but 33 per cent of the population. In Alabama, they account for 44 per cent of the deaths and 28 per cent of the population. The pattern exists in the North as well, where African-American populations in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee have high infection and death rates.”

Bad things always happen to black people in the American South, the bastion of slavery where the gulf between the two races remains embarrassingly wide among white people who tout their love of God and fellow men and women but still behave like slave masters. They wield the bible like the bazooka over the heads of people whose ancestors built that region breaking their backs in slave labour. So, no one should find it particularly strange that the death rate in the black community is this high and this bad in the South.

The fault does not lie with the coronavirus. After all, the virus, like all such pandemics, is an opportunistic killer. It exploits weaknesses in the economic system, such as when poverty results in poor feeding of the poor and compromises their immune system.

It is natural for black people to worry about this. If we are the primary target of COVID-19, our problems coalesce into the more intractable problem best described as wahala. We are not really the primary target because of the colour of our skin. US federal officials, anxious to pin the fault on something, came up with the view that the life style of black people predisposes them to the raging pandemic. There is nothing scientific about this. Just an opinion arrived at on the basis of discriminatory economic policies that force a different lifestyle on black people.

The surgeon-general gratuitously advised them to stay off “alcohol, tobacco and drugs,” as if that would contain the spread of the infection and death. Bouie rightly dismissed both the official conclusion and the advice of the surgeon-general who, by the way, is black. “In truth,” Bouie argued, “black susceptibility to infection and death in the coronavirus pandemic has everything to do with the racial character of inequality in the United States. And if black people are more likely to suffer the comorbidities that make Covid-19 more deadly, it’s because those ailments are tied to the segregation and concentrated poverty that still mark their communities.”

The problem is that you cannot undo the past. You may wish to atone for past wrongs, but you cannot stop the past from casting a dark shadow on the present in all communities. Past policies and failures hobble man’s progress, preventing him from leaping and forcing him to crawl in the real assessment of his progress. Coronavirus has done one serious damage to American invincibility. It has exposed it as a shallow sham. Did anyone ever think that a pandemic such as this would catch the richest nation looking so confused, partly because it had no immediate response to it and partly because it has lost more citizens to the virus than other country? Where were the first class preventive and curative American medical facilities that were the envies of the world? Coronavirus has the US to the test and found it wanting.

None of that could be found because the country’s past has caught up with it. The dyed-in-the-wool racists might choose to be deaf to the wailing in the black communities, but they cannot pretend not to know that their country is paying a price and will continue to do so as along as it continues to wave the flag of economic and social inequalities as the badge of national progress.

The good thing is that life imitates life. Meaning that life in our country too imitates life in the US. If you substituted Nigeria for US, the result would be the same. We would know which ethnic group or groups are most susceptible to the killer virus – and offer some explanation from the facts of our national history and the fitful attempts, genuine they might be, to build a nation where no man or woman is oppressed but in which people without godfathers and godmothers are denied their basic rights as citizens. Ethnicity and religion are building two countries in one, namely one country for the favoured ethnic groups and religious faith and the other for ethnic groups and religious faiths in search of a favoured status.

We too are hobbled by our past and present policies and practices that drive the wedge between ethnic groups and religious faiths. The US has white supremacy. In Nigeria, we have ethnic and religious supremacy. I am afraid, there is no chance of levelling this Mountain Kilimanjaro. Indeed, the mountain could only go higher because fencing in and fencing out are permanent features of human societies. Every nation is comfortable with the pernicious policy of economic and social disparities that keep the hewers of wood hewing wood. So, maybe, we should not weep, brother.

We do not have racial problems in our country but our ethnic and religious injustices are just as bad as the racial problems in the US. Discriminatory policies and practices brought this crude oil rich nation to its knees as the poverty capital of the world. They prevented our nation from building, equipping and staffing first class hospitals. They reduced our universities to degree mills, churning out young men and women unequipped educationally to serve themselves and their dear country.

The problem with discrimination is that merit is pushed down and mediocrity is elevated as an official policy. When you feel obliged to put a visibly square peg in a round hole because he is of your ethnic group or religious faith and you have an ethnic obligation to put him up there, you do two things to the country, to wit, you injure our collective sense of justice and fairness and you create a past that the future would regret.


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