Coronavirus has shown us both the bravery of black doctors and nurses and the plight of ordinary black people
Coronavirus has brought the whole world to its knees.
Whether you are a third world country, a rich country, a democracy or a dictatorship – coronavirus didn’t excuse anyone. It didn’t discriminate. Many people (125, 196 as of the publication of this article) have died from the virus. The victims have all come from different ethnicities and backgrounds.
As the UK fights this pandemic, the real heroes of society have emerged for us to see. And, surprise, surprise, the heroes were not those smartly dressed politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster who suck up to Boris Johnson to keep their overpaid jobs.
No, the real heroes are the medical practitioners, from doctors to nurses, who have risked their lives to take care of the sick and the dying. These brave people, men and women, young and old, have gone above and beyond to treat those infected by COVID-19 - risking their own health, coming out of retirement and separating from their families.
And many of these brave people on the hospital front lines are black.
Black people are the lungs of the NHS
Like the transport sector, the public health sector, basically the NHS, has always been dependent on staff who are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Despite what the recent campaign to whitewash NHS might have you believe, many of the nurses, doctors and surgeons in our NHS hospitals are in fact of African or Caribbean origin. Of course, I am not downplaying the importance of Asian and white medical staff, and Asians do make up a sizeable majority of the NHS headcount, more so than black people.
But 72, 321 black people are part of the NHS (6% of the NHS workforce), and we must honour every single one of these people. When the dust settles, and we return to normality, I hope the people of this country do not forget that the NHS is not just full of white faces but black and Asian faces too and way more of the latter. After all this, those who were in favour of Brexit must ask themselves:
“How much more damage would the coronavirus have done to our loved ones if not the ethnic minorities who served the NHS diligently during this extraordinarily difficult times.”
Black people are still disproportionately living in more impoverished conditions in the UK than other groups
Latest research from an organisation which monitors intensive care patients has revealed that of the 2000 people who fell ill to the virus within its data set, 35% were from a black, Asian or ethnic background. Specifically, 268 of the cases within that data set were people from a black background.
The fact many black people in the UK are disproportionately falling ill to this disease illustrates the sad reality. In essence, most black people are still living in rougher conditions than other races in the UK because many are still working-class and poor.
Like our Asian counterparts, black people live in multi-generational and often cramped households with many family members living together. Also, this pandemic has battered the British economy, and many of the sectors where black people earn their bread to maintain their livelihoods have been completely shut down albeit temporarily.
Even if the government is paying 80% of their salaries, this will not be enough for some black families who were barely getting by on their full salary. Older black people, those over the age of 60, do not have comfortable middle-class jobs or wages. Therefore a pandemic like this will be crushing for them. I have seen this personally.
The harsh realities that black people face is nothing new. Of course, none of these problems is exclusive to black or Asian people in the UK as there are working class, poor white people who are experiencing a similar experience.
Having said that, we must remember that, in the UK, many black people, perhaps too many, do not have the luxuries of the middle class and the wealthy in which the majority are white. Millions of black people in Britain survive by their wit's end. Now I am not necessarily blaming anyone for this. The reasons why this is the reality for the UK's black population are complex and beyond the scope of this article.
Once this coronavirus pandemic is over (and it will end, even if it seems like it's dragging on like a horror movie that has gone on for way too long), I know things will just go back to normal. People will simply return to their constantly stimulated and always distracted lives.
Yet a part of me hopes that more people will at least now have more of an appreciation of the crucial contributions black medical staff made during this period, even as their loved ones suffered and endured in silence.