The COVID-19 pandemic response is a covert war against black people

May 26, 2020 11:14 am

President Trump wears safety goggles while touring Honeywell International’s mask-making operation in Phoenix May 5, 2020. Honeywell added manufacturing capabilities in Phoenix to produce N95 face masks in support of the government’s response to COVID-19. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo

We are living in a time of war in our approach to fighting COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it. President Donald Trump refers to himself as a “wartime president.” The media uses “war” as a metaphor. Doctors and nurses are “troops” on the front lines. America’s militarized law enforcement and National Guard impose stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures.

But this pandemic is also covertly a war against black people in America.

Last month, I listened to NPR journalist David Greene interview U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana and also a medical doctor, about the racial disparities in his state’s COVID-19 deaths. Cassidy dismissed any discussion of racial disparities as little more than liberal propaganda, and said social ailments, like poverty, are not directly associated with COVID-19 death. 

The real reason, he said, was purely physiological: black people “are 60% more likely to have diabetes” and have higher rates of hypertension and obesity, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

There were a few points of the conversation where he vocalized views that echo those that underpinned America’s history of rationalizing eugenics, ethnic cleansing and the sterilization of women of color without consent: Black Americans are more prone to fall ill in the pandemic because they have inherent physical deficiencies. Such ideas are prevalent in the debunked (but recently resurgent) “race science” that dates back to the 18th Century. 

He sounded like the physician Samuel A. Cartwright, who presented to the Medical Association of Louisiana in 1851 and told doctors that Negros had a tendency toward laziness, savagery and constant state of submission because they have smaller brains and blood vessels.

For centuries, black people have had no confidence in America’s healthcare system because of its inhumane treatment of black people as slaves and test subjects without their consent, and its withholding of adequate treatment. Modern healthcare system studies reveal the impact of systemic racial bias, including doctors being less likely to administer effective treatment to black patients. And studies have found that some white health care personnel believe myths like black patients are able to endure more pain because they have thicker skin and less sensitive nerve endings. Then there is the racially biased decision-making software systems used in hospitals that are less likely to recommend black patients than white patients to programs to improve their medical care needs – even though they are equally sick.    

Cassidy’s insidious comments transitioned to the racist myth about black people being immune to diseases, including COVID-19. This idea places black people in the same category as animals and leads people to believe black people are subhuman and are able to evade the deadly epidemic. But such myths also mislead black people into believing that, if they experience COVID-19 symptoms, it is useless to seek medical attention – surely a factor in why the disease has violently spread through black neighborhoods across the nation. 

Fake information is a war strategy. During WWII, Winston Churchill authorized transmittals to convince the German people the war was going badly for them. Then the Federal Bureau of Investigation established the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) whose mission was to attack civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and groups like the Black Panther Party. COINOTELPRO created and disseminated, among black youth, a comic book that portrayed the Black Panther Party’s mission as attacking the police. 

Today, politicians use laws and policies to trample on our human rights and wage domestic wars, like the War Against Poverty and the War Against Drugs, that ultimately make it harder for Black Americans to live the “American Dream” so often discussed by white Americans. Add in the Prison Industrial Complex that has kept Black Americans behind bars, the direct effect of Hurricane Katrina and the policies that followed it on Black Americans, the disparate impact the Great Recession of 2008 had on Black Americans, and the way the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were used to demonize Black and Arab Muslims, and it becomes clear that there is no level battle field. 

Education supposedly is the great equalizer, the thing that neutralizes the power in the conflict between the rich and the poor, despite democracy’s racial inequities. But education cannot operate alone. It needs class to avoid social paralysis. It has the ability to imprison poor people in poor neighborhoods that produce poor schools: Poor schools have poor teachers who perpetuate an impoverished education. An impoverished education double-traps people in prisons or poor-paying jobs, leading to inadequate health care. 

A failure to understand and address this means the diabolical cycle will only continue.

Across the country, black people are less likely to hold a college degree than their white neighbors. These social challenges lead to high unemployment rates, uninsured people, mental disorders and a host of alarming statistics that tell a hopeless story about Black Americans living in poverty.

Malcolm X, in his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” said that “being born in America does not make you an American. If being in America made us Americans, there would be no need for constitutional amendments and facing filibustering would be futile. There would be no need for legislation – white immigrants do not have to wait for bills to be passed to make them American.”  

The Trump administration’s non-action plan perpetuates the high rates of COVID-19 deaths in black communities. The government’s gross negligence of the social and physiological ailments plague American black communities, and has enabled them to weaponize COVID-19 in the same way that the Nixon administration ignored hepatitis C in black communities and the Reagan administration did the same as HIV/AIDS wreaked havoc among Black Americans

Today, disproportionately more black people than any U.S. racial group have contracted COVID-19 and died as a result. Still, the Trump administration has no known plan that they have shared with the public that will neutralize COVID-19’s devastating spread among black communities.

The Trump Administration mirrors the Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush (41), Bush (43) and Clinton administrations that used social issues to exploit and trick the oppressed to think we were Americans. Today, I am a human and civil rights freedom fighter on the front lines for those oppressed by Americanism. Now, the current administration uses COVID-19 as a weapon of mass destruction, to disobey the rules of engagement of the human rights of America’s black population, prisoners of war. 

To me, Donald Trump is not a wartime president. He is a war criminal. 

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Rashaad Thomas
Rashaad Thomas

Rashaad Thomas is a United States Air Force Veteran, freelance writer and poet who lives in south Phoenix. He was named Best Poet by Phoenix New Times in 2019. His work can be found in the book "Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong," The Rumpus, Heart Journal Online, Columbia Poetry Review and others.