I come from a long line of Black intellectuals. My family members migrated across the country by wagon alongside white families, integrated classrooms and courts, and worked their way up to found a legacy at prestigious universities like Stanford and USC. Before being allowed the right to converse with white peers, my ancestors fought and died for the right to be free. A notion I often take for granted, but now feel more connected to than ever because there is a mandated stay-at-home order in the city where I live. The freedom to leave my home has been taken away from me, and I feel afraid that more of my freedoms will be taken away as COVID-19 spreads.
As an African-American woman, being mandated to stay home makes me think of strict racial codes and rules that were forced on Black people for hundreds of years. I feel that the freedom that my ancestors fought so hard to acquire and preserve has been tarnished in a matter of weeks. I start to experience survivor’s guilt because Black Americans have and continue to be affected by COVID-19 at alarming rates. According to the Center for Disease Control, African-Americans make up 30% of COVID cases, even though we are only 13% of the population. As for fatalities, Black people are twice as likely to die from COVID as white people in the state of New York. Down south, the death rate amongst African-Americans is the most drastic. According to data from the Louisiana Department of Health, 70% of COVID related deaths are African-Americans.
In light of all of this information, I feel a deep sense of fear. I fear that I will lose loved ones or know people who will die. I have started to hear about friends of friends and cousins who are getting sick. I know that I will lose someone who is close to me, seeing the alarming rate at which Black people are being affected by COVID. African-Americans only make up 13% of the population, and I worry that COVID will drastically reduce the size of the Black population. I am concerned about what measures are being taken to find a vaccine, a concern I know many Black people have due to our history with the Tuskegee experiments. I wonder how long the entire nation will have to practice extreme social distancing. I question whether remaining six feet apart will become a permanent way of living. I find it strange not to touch, hug or kiss my parents, siblings, uncles and cousins. I lose hope at the sight of images of Black people crying in New Orleans, which take me back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Like everyone else, I wait to see what will happen. But unlike everyone else, I’m part of a community that has spent hundreds of years earning our freedom.
My relationship with COVID manifests itself in tears every night, after phone calls with friends who’ve lost another family member in New Orleans, Detroit or Chicago. I watch the death toll of Black people skyrocket each day. I wonder if I’m next. I feel as though the Black community just can’t catch a break up. I feel anger, sadness, and frustration for Black people. I experience survivor’s guilt because I am not living in the deep south, where Black people are being hit the hardest. I lose the motivation to exercise or break the stay-at-home order to take walks. I find comfort in rich foods and cigarettes, and plan phone calls with friends where we drink together. I experience a collective sense of fear and sadness with my Black peers that other Americans cannot relate to while practicing social distancing. I feel hopeless, and wonder if other Americans feel as afraid as I do. I experience nightmares that involve me forgetting to leave the house without papers allowing me permission to leave. I fear African-Americans will be put into separate housing or quarantine centers because we are being affected by COVID at such a disproportionate rate. I worry about the government blaming COVID on the Black population. I wonder if my family members’ efforts to fight for freedom and integrated spaces were worth it at all. I find that the strongest feeling I have in response to COVID is survivor’s guilt. It creeps up on me in the most unusual ways — sweating more than I ever have before, trouble sleeping, vivid nightmares, and cravings for alcohol. My fear isn’t that I will get COVID, my fear is that I will have to continue watching other Black people die for years. I have faith that a vaccine will become accessible to everyone, and like my ancestors, I have to remain hopeful.