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Racial tensions

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If you’re thinking that the racial tensions in the USA that has sparked multiple demonstrations around the world does not concern you, then you are wrong. The Black people being chased, maltreated, disenfranchised, maligned, lynched and knelt upon are your brothers and sisters. It concerns everyone from the Black race and non-Blacks. The Black race refers to anyone with origins from Africa even if the African blood goes back multiple generations or if one-eighth of his blood is African. An understanding of what is going on in the USA will give us a better understanding of the disproportionate deaths among Blacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Although the Black populations make up less than 15 percent in the USA, the number of Blacks who died was 30 percent of confirmed cases. A similar statistic repeated itself in the United Kingdom. Blacks have been dying more during this pandemic even though they make up a minority of the population. They are not dying by chance.

A closer investigation into these deaths shows that these deaths were common amongst Blacks because they held essential jobs. While majority of the population was on lockdown in their homes, protecting themselves from the virus, these Blacks had to be at their jobs. They held jobs like hospital cleaners, garbage collectors, supermarket attendants, bus drivers, security men, grave diggers, mortuary attendants, care givers and nurses’ aides. A few were nurses and doctors. Majority held the low-level essential jobs. Apart from working in the essential job industry, most of the affected Blacks had comorbidities associated with institutional racism. Poor Housing, unemployment, unequal educational opportunities and lack of health insurance were the precursors to the comorbidities that they had. Most of them are living in overcrowded, segregated housing. They lack decent job opportunities. Poor education invariably also limits their job opportunities and spending capacities. Majority of the Blacks could not afford health insurance such that whenever they became sick, they relied on inadequate home remedies since they could not afford to see a doctor. And when some became sick, they continued to go to work because they couldn’t afford to stop work. Usually, poor income leads to poor food choices because cheap food choices are usually high in fat, sugar, salt and low on fiber. The combinations of such foods will give hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular complications.

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Racial inequalities in the USA are prevalent in the employment, housing, healthcare, educational system, academia, boards of corporations and in Congress. The racism in the USA, has been institutionalized. Although Blacks are no longer enslaved as it was during the slave trade, Black males are disproportionately incarcerated. Thirty eight percent of inmates are Blacks while Blacks make up only less than fifteen percent of the country’s population. The first slave ship landed in Virginia, USA in 1691 and for the next 240 years Africans were sold as cargo. The number of Africans kidnapped from the African continent and sold into slavery across Europe and America was more than10 million. The true number may never be known because many Africans were thrown into the ocean during the slave trade and entire ships carrying slaves from Africa were deliberately sunk in order to avoid arrest after slave trade was outlawed. The Southerners depended on slave labour for the farming of tobacco. When the Northerners wanted slavery abolished, the Southerners chose to secede. The ensuing Civil War lasted for four years and the Northerners won. The American Civil war was from 1861- 1865. Although slavery was officially abolished in 1865, Andrew Johnson a Democrat and the 17th American president that took over after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in a spirit of reconciliation allowed the former Confederate fighters to run for office. These former Confederate soldiers influenced the introduction of laws that saw the marginalization and segregation of the freed slaves. Some of these laws were the segregation of schools, Blacks standing up for White people in the bus, separate door entrances in restaurants and ban on inter racial marriages. These laws, further enshrined racism into the fabric of America.

Although these laws were eventually repealed or amended, the effects still remained in the American society. In the USA as in other countries with a colonial past, the perpetrators of these evil laws have been venerated by erecting statues in their honour. The supporters of the statues want the statues to remain; that it is part of their history. Museums hold artifacts of history and the statues can be there. After all, the statues of Hitler are not sported all over post-war Germany. Rather, we see Auschwitz Museum and other memorials dedicated to the lives lost during the Holocaust. The statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down in Iraq. Monuments of oppressive regimes are usually erected while they are in power but in the USA, more than a thousand monuments of Confederate soldiers were erected after the fall of the Confederate South. I do not know how many monuments if any were erected in remembrance of the millions of slaves’ lives lost in the course of slavery.

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The Southerners in the political sphere influenced the lawmakers to frame laws that saw that the newly freed Blacks might be legally free but were made unequal. These were the Jim Crow Laws. Gradually, the gains of the abolitionists were eroded. These laws did not allow Blacks to vote. Only those that could read were allowed to vote. The freed slaves could not read. The Blacks were legally not allowed to share the same public spaces with the Whites. They were not allowed to drink from the same water fountain. They could only sit at the back of the bus. They couldn’t eat in the same restaurant. And inter racial marriage was against the law. Then they segregated schools. Blacks couldn’t attend White schools. The schools that the Blacks attended were sparsely furnished and were chronically deficient in material, financial and human resources. Most of these schools had leaking roofs, lacked books and their teachers treated their Black students poorly. Jonathan Kozol gave a slight glimpse into the educational system in his book; Death at an Early Age. Today, the state of schools in predominant areas of people of color is not much different than it was in the younger days of Jonathan Kozol.

After the desegregation of schools and several laws were passed to give equal rights to the Blacks, there were still unwritten laws that subjugated and oppressed the Black man. They were not given equal opportunities. Racism was no longer in the form of slavery but had now become the legalisation of white supremacy, racial and social injustice, the demonisation and oppression of the black race. Even in the entertainment industry, Black men were typically stereotyped as drug dealing, homeless punks. The Black women were also stereotyped as loose women with many children from multiple fathers. Black men and women have made scientific discoveries but the media hardly ever celebrates them.

To be continued tomorrow
Obilade, is a medical doctor and an Associate Professor of Public Health, wrote from Abuja.

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