Home covid Gloria Ladson-Billings: Why COVID-19 Should Scare Black People

Gloria Ladson-Billings: Why COVID-19 Should Scare Black People


By now you and everyone you know has had some experience with COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus. The outbreak was first documented in Wu-Han China and because of its totalitarian government, China could take draconian measures such as forced quarantines, building a hospital in less than a month, and requiring health care workers to work around the clock. However, in a democratic society, individuals retain certain rights that governments are not supposed to violate.

Today, people are pointing fingers at various people and government officials concerning slow or limited actions. Most of the nation is asked to practice what we now know as social distancing. Unless we are first responders—police officers, firefighters, and health care practitioners—we have been asked to self-isolate and stay home. Our schools are closed, our jobs ask us to work from home, if possible, and sadly some of us have lost our jobs. We are washing our hands multiple times a day, wiping down hard services with disinfectant wipes, and shopping for hard to find staples like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, and disinfectant wipes and sprays.

Lots of myths are spreading because of this deadly virus. One such myth is that young people can’t catch it. That’s not true. Indeed, 58% of those identified with the virus are in the 18 to 49-year-old age range. A variety of “cures” for the virus are circulating on the Internet. However, as of this moment there are no cures for the virus. Our best course of action is to practice social distancing to help flatten the curve of the outbreak.

I wanted to write this because I am concerned about what COVID-19 may mean for Black people. One of the myths we must confront is that Black people can’t catch the virus. We know that’s not true. Idris Elba tested positive and several NBA players—Rudy Gobert and Kevin Durant—have tested positive. We are all at risk for contracting the virus. But, as Black people we have a special risk.

Our risk is tied to our limited access to quality health care. We are less likely to receive a COVID-19 test even if we present with symptoms. Recently, numerous Black people have come across my newsfeed as victims who died from COVID-19. We are more economically vulnerable so we are likely to risk going to work or taking on side hustles like shared ride gigs (Uber, Lyft) and food delivery to make ends meet.

Historically, we say, “When White America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia!” Thus, White Americans may be getting the flu, but we are getting the coronavirus! We are less likely to be able to homeschool our children and our children cannot afford to lose precious classroom time. We have fewer childcare options and because our seniors are considered a vulnerable population we cannot rely on grandma and granddad as childcare providers. Thus, we may be tempted to leave children home alone so we can earn a living. This can be very dangerous.

COVID-19 is scary by any measure but it is especially scary for Black folks. We have to pay attention to the best science and hygiene practices to stay safe and healthy. We will get through this but we can speed up the resolution by being smart in how we respond. Let’s stay safe… let’s stay healthy… let’s stay alive.