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Having strong Black businesses is literally a life and death matter. Black people represent 70% of COVID deaths in Chicago. In Milwaukee, over 80% of COVID-19 deaths are Black people. Nearly half of deaths statewide in Michigan are Black folks. It’s not that Black people don’t understand social distancing but in fact, they often just don’t have a choice. The low income caregivers and other “essential” workers that still crowd subway trains are disproportionately Black. Further, healthcare disparities, after exposure to the virus, amount to a death sentence. Strong Black owned businesses are ideal in times of peace but in this current crisis, the need becomes all the more obvious.
Poor people can’t simply sit home for months without a check. Low wage workers have never in life been offered “telecommuting” or work from home benefits. Sheltering at home, as the New York Times recently highlighted, is a luxury. All of this points to the need for Black people to have control over their lives, to take charge of their ultimate fate: the need is for power, Black power. Black people must own their institutions and control the economy in their communities. This crisis illustrates that others, who don’t care for you, will never prioritize your safety. They will not sacrifice profits for your health. Your health is ultimately your priority and without the freedom to prioritize it, you’re at the mercy of an employer or the government to send out a “stimulus” check. That is not a life of self determination.
It is well documented that there are disparities in the healthcare system: access to and outcomes from it are starkly divided, by race. When vulnerable, working people are exposed to COVID-19 (or anything else, for that matter), accessing the system is not a guarantee. Low wage workers, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage, are often completely uninsured. Those who have some level of access, often find their treatment and experience with the system to be subpar. This is a longstanding reality that COVID-19 has merely brought to the mainstream. Once again, it points to a need for Black people to control and maintain their own institutions, even in the realm of healthcare: no one is going to prioritize you but you.
Yes, Black people are dying from COVID-19 in a way that others simply aren’t. The reasons are structural and not personal. Black people, disproportionately, literally cannot afford to stay home. The occupations they tend to find themselves in are those that aren’t afforded the same benefits to shelter at home. Further, longstanding disparities in healthcare and the healthcare system exacerbate the issue, after the fact. At the root of it all is a dire need for Black people to own and control their own institutions, to no longer be subject to the whims and instincts of others. This crisis is yet another wakeup call.