May 18, 2020

DERRICK TUMUSIIME: The Racialisation Of COVID-19


Derick Tumusiime is a Ugandan writer based in the United Kingdom. (Courtesy Photo)

As the world tries to grapple with the contagion that is COVID-19, there is a theme emerging that is quite perturbing, the racialisation of COVID-19. The incipient narrative here in Britain is that it affects black, Asian and ethnic minority people more than any other racial group.

I am not denying that people from Black, Asian, and other Ethnic minority groups {BAME} are not dying from COVID-19. Twenty per cent of all NHS workforce are from an ethnic minority background. The figure for doctors is 44%. It is inevitable since some are essential workers, they do work on the frontline in the National Health Service [ NHS] as shown in the data below.

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According to transport for London [TFL] 35% of Londoners belong to a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME).Transport use The bus is the most common mode of public transport used amongst ethnic minority communities (in particular amongst black communities and less so amongst Asian communities).Sixty nine per cent of BAME Londoners use the bus at least once a week compared to 56% of white Londoners.

Most of the cleaners, supermarket workers, security guards, rail station attendants… jobs that are essential and keep London running are predominately BAME. Inevitably they will be affected. It is not rocket science. I am not being flippant about the deaths.

However, what I find disheartening is the racialisation of COVID-19 infection and the continued conjectures that it is affecting BAME people more. Or that they are more susceptible to COVID-19. It takes me back to the era of the outbreak of the aids epidemic where the unscientific theory went, it affected the gays and the blacks more. We all know how that theory was debunked. Labels bias our perceptions, thinking, and behaviour. A label or story can cause a lot of untold suffering and history has a lot of such stories.

This kind of rhetoric has a habit of feeding hate. We know in Scenarios like this people’s unconscious biases come out. One has to remember, that when COVID-19 was first announced in China and subsequently Korea. People of Chinese and Korean origin were targeted, Liverpool which has a high Chinese population saw a rise in hate crimes against its Chinese student population. Incidents of hate crimes against people of Chinese or Korean descent were a regular occurrence around the country.

Hearing even the mayor of London asking for an inquiry into why people from BAME are dying, kind of takes me aback. Or I should not be surprised since he is a politician and most politicians are guided by circumstances, conjectures, and conjunctions. For a person in his position it is very disappointing to say the least.

If the politicians and the media keep on extenuating theses conjectures, then believe me or not we shall see a lot of rise in racial bias based on health, like the BAME community does not have enough social, economic, and political issues to contend with.

Let us look at the data we have at hand, The United States and Western Europe account for most of the deaths from COVID-19 worldwide, compared to Africa considering the poverty, poor health care, and overall poor infrastructure. Nobody is asking why?

I see this as nothing more than diversionary political doublespeak, which politicians and the mainstream media are culpable. When things get tough, change the narrative, and load it all on the BAME community. There is a long history of the narrative changing; crime, job losses, drugs…. Immigration. Blame the BAME!!

What the politicians and media should be focused on is why there is not enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect front line workers?

Why is there a lack of mass testing of key workers?

What is the racial makeup of the death in the care homes?

It is quite astounding that in a country that prides itself on being technologically advanced in its COVID-19 death statistics do not include care home or home deaths. There is a total of 21,723 care homes in the UK, including Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. One wonders why? is it the lack of logistics? Is it deliberate? Don’t they matter?

Why do the so-called experts not seek out their African colleagues and learn from them on how pandemics are controlled?

Africa has been dealing with pandemics and managing them well with the bare minimum logistically. Anyone remember, Ebola! Or are they too proud to seek them out? The west taking advice from the Africans, unthinkable!!

A large cluster of folks willtakeanything they hear on the rumour mill, just because it suits their agenda. To this extent that is why fake news has been so successful, there is apathy towards doing research in a post truth world and were we are suffocated with too much information. Avoidance of generalisations. The herd mentality has caused so much woe to society.

Thinking has not been made illegal yet, we as a society have to think and not take issues at face value.

I leave with words of caution, “To be wary of science is not to fear progress, or to be ignorant, or to fear the unknown. To be wary of science is to be sceptical about whether innovation belongs in human hands. No matter how intelligent a scientist may indeed be, like every human being who has ever lived, the promise of power coupled with one’s own biases, prejudices and partiality will undoubtedly taint the result. Science will always be used to push a certain agenda or to benefit specific people. To believe otherwise is naive.” ― Rebecca McNutt

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