Thursday, June 18, 2020

Black Queer Youth and the Family Divide

By Sikivu Hutchinson

    A parent repeated the right wing slur that greater media representation of LGBTQ lifestyles is “turning youth out” and encouraging them to become gay. A South L.A. school employee said she had a problem with the use of the Black Power fist by a Black and Latinx GSA Network campus group during last November’s global Transgender Day of Remembrance. A Black father told his eleven year-old daughter not to display her Pride flag because it will cause conflict within the family. And, at a March LGBTQIA+ Youth of Color Institute with South L.A. students at King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, virtually every young person in attendance expressed anxiety about their family’s religious-based homophobia and non-acceptance.

These exchanges occurred before the pandemic shutdown, the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter uprisings, and the massive educational upheavals that have forever changed the lives of Black and youth of color. When I completed this article in March at the beginning of the pandemic, I had a hard time finding a publisher for it. Some of those rejections were no doubt due to the demand for COVID coverage. But most were undoubtedly due to the usual erasure of Black queer youth and family issues in the dominant culture when it isn’t Pride Month.

As the number of openly-identified Generation Z LGBTQIA+ youth increase, the exchanges that I reflected on above have become more commonplace in African American schools, homes, and families. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, African American youth in L.A. are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than non-black youth. As a result, they comprise a significant portion of all youth who identify as LGBT in L.A. Nationwide, LGBT African Americans are more likely to be raising children than are white LGBT individuals. And over fifty percent of queer families are headed by Black women, bucking mainstream depictions that privilege white gay and lesbian parenthood.

Although intersectional approaches to mental health and wellness are widely touted in social justice circles, educational and family support platforms that specifically meet the needs of Black queer K-12 youth are few and far between. As the parent of a non-binary, queer child I am acutely aware of this vacuum. My child and their LGBT peers have experienced bullying and harassment at their LAUSD middle school. Despite the national prominence of the PFLAG LGBTQIA+ family advocacy organization, when I searched for a local African descent group with the same emphasis I couldn’t find one. Similarly, Ariel*, an African American friend and parent, said that she was “shocked to learn that there are very few spaces in North Carolina and throughout the nation where my Black transgender son and for other Black LGBTQIA+ youth can meet. Because I want my son and other Black youth to be safe and supported, I want to see gatherings forming around the nation for Black LGBTQIA+ youth and families. It is imperative that African American families support our LGBTQIA+ children.”

After meeting at a Pride event last summer, Cynthia Ruffin (director of community relations at Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling services) and I started a Black LGBTQIA+ Family and Caregiver support group in South L.A. The group meets monthly at AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) in Baldwin Hills and is designed to provide safe space and advocacy resources for parents and caregivers of Black LGBTQIA+ youth, especially as they navigate K-12 school culture, mental health needs, and challenges with peers. As a new group, we have struggled to attract and retain more members. These struggles are not unique; the first local, South L.A. PFLAG group disbanded due to waning membership. Family groups that focus on queer youth of color can be difficult to sustain in the face of intersectional community challenges such as poverty, job commitments, lack of childcare, and fear about homophobic non-acceptance. At our monthly meetings, we discuss parenting and caregiving strategies, as well as how to deal with faculty, administrators and other school officials who range from hostile to ignorant of the culturally specific needs of African descent queer students. We also unpack the diverse coping mechanisms that our children use in their school lives and relationships. One of the most pervasive issues that members grapple with is the veneer of liberalism in predominantly white educational settings. White school officials may pay lip service to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity but fail to consider how the experiences of Black queer youth disrupt their colorblind ethos. In our first public event earlier this year, we showed up to support queer and trans youth at a Westboro Baptist Church hate protest in front of Manual Arts High School in South L.A. We are currently planning a PSA with members, tabling at future Pride events and parent trainings at local school districts.

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 “Black and African American LGBT Youth” report, seventy seven percent of African American youth have heard their family members say negative things about the LGBTQIA+ community. Only twenty six percent say their family members are involved in pro-LGBTQIA+ activities or resourcing. The gap in family and social safety net support for Black queer, trans, and nonbinary youth is a major factor in their high rates of sexual abuse, homelessness, depression, and suicide. Couple this with high levels of religiosity among African Americans, and many Black queer youth are forced to remain closeted in their communities for basic survival.  

Still, queer Generation Z youth are at the forefront of movement change and resistance. And it is not a coincidence that the increase in LGBTQIA+ identification is also paralleled by increasing numbers of youth who are not religiously identified or affiliated. Greater numbers of Gen Z youth say that they’re dubious of religious dogma precisely because of the bigotry organized religions have historically displayed toward the LGBTQI community.

In predominantly Black and Latinx South L.A. schools, training and professional development on creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth are minimal. Often, these initiatives are taken up by the Genders and Sexualities Network or GSA Network, a nationwide support network for LGBTQIA+ students. According to a new study by the Gay/Lesbian Student Education Network and the National Black Justice League, Black students who were at a school with a GSA were more likely to stay in school and feel safe in school. At one school where I advise GSA youth, students reported that there were few identifiable adult allies on campus who were openly supportive of LGBTQIA+ students. At another school, youth reported that there were vocal adult allies but their peers used homophobic and transphobic slurs that went unchecked all the time. Indeed, at this very same school, conservative religious Black faculty had once taken down a LGBTQ affirming flag and replaced it with a Christian “flag”.

In January, our GSA students at Gardena High School presented the findings of a campus survey that they conducted on LGBTQI school climate issues. The presentation was part of year long peer education and outreach using the GLSEN’s school climate survey tool. Conquering performance anxiety, the youth stood bravely before eighty faculty, staff and administrators, educating the adults in the room about gender pronouns, LGBTQIA+ youth of color demographics, and queer inclusive California legislation like the 2011 Fair Education Act. Prior to the faculty training, my students presented to their peers on queer identities, representation of queer social history in text books, and the role adult allies played on campus. We met with the principal about our outreach plan, then connected with ally English, social studies and health teachers on campus in advance and provided them with prompts on pronouns, key terms, and definitions about gender and sexuality. Students established ground rules for maintaining respectful communication, equitable dialogue, and confidentiality. During one classroom presentation, a student leader named Taj* asked if there were any students who would feel comfortable coming out to their parents. “My mother’s Black”, a ninth grade student said flatly, implying that coming out would be a deal breaker in most African American families. Again, her sentiments were shared by other Black and Latinx youth who indicated that their family’s Christian religious beliefs were a barrier to acceptance and support.

While these youth consistently show up to demonstrate leadership, the missing link is visible family, networks that affirm and reinforce their activism. Acknowledging the cultural barriers that exist for Black family advocacy, Ariel argues, “There is no decree, doctrine, or belief that would prevent me from fully supporting my children. I follow my personal motto closely, to find spaces that reflect them, that bolster their growing selves. If I cannot find those spaces, I join with like-minded people to create them.” Similarly, Deidra Hardimon, the parent of a Black trans young man, noted that, “The group is important for me. I need support to continue to be there for him. It helps me to not feel alone or judged. So it frees me up to say exactly how I feel or to question. The triple burden of being Black, male and trans in the world is heavy. A heaviness I can’t ever fully understand. And I feel we are somewhat pioneers. We’re charting new territory for (families and our children).”

As calls to defund school police gain traction, investing in the mental health and wellness of Black queer youth must be a key policy demand. At the same time, African American parents and caregivers have a duty and an obligation to demonstrate that there are loving, proactive Black families who are ready, willing and able to go to bat for them. Doing so will save lives and advance justice for Black queer youth in our polarized schools and communities.

Sikivu Hutchinson is an educator, writer and founder of the Women’s Leadership Project Black feminist mentoring and civic engagement program for high school girls of color in South L.A. Her new book, Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist, and Heretical was published in April. The L.A. Black LGBTQIA+ Parent, Family and Caregiver group can be contacted here. Twitter @sikivuhutch

*Names changed

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Focus on Black Girls, Mental Health, Radical Self-Acceptance and Anti-Racist Uprising

Building on last week's Future of Feminism youth of conference:
Focus on Mental Health, “Radical Self-Acceptance” and Anti-racist uprising for Black Lives
Thursday, June 4th @ 1:00
How do we develop a Girls of Color and Women of Color-centered wellness that acknowledges the trauma and grief we experience dealing with racism/sexism/homophobia and abuse in our everyday lives?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trauma, Anti-Blackness and Going Insane with Rage

By Sikivu Hutchinson

“I can’t breathe”. These words, now reverberating across the world in gruesome playback, were among the last uttered by George Floyd, a devoted son, friend, and father, as he lay dying under the knee of a killer cop this week in Minneapolis.

According to his friends, Floyd was a “quiet personality and (a) beautiful spirit” who had moved to Minneapolis in search of a “new life”.

I began writing this piece prior to his death. It began as a reflection on the fragile state of Black girls’ mental health in the pandemic. I kept thinking about the irony of May being Mental Health Awareness month in an era when many of us might feel we are drowning, slowly going insane with rage.

For at least the third time in a month, Black people have heard and seen another Black person repeatedly executed on camera. We have grieved collectively with the families of the victims, written, protested in the streets, called for the prosecution and jailing of killer cops, and wondered if it will take armed resistance to change this seemingly endless death regime. These atrocities are unique to Breathing while Black in America, where the 24/7 corporate news cycle and state violence intersect in a toxic anti-blackness that inflicts deep psychic and emotional wounds.

Covid-fueled increases in surveillance, suppression, and lynching have become indelible signs of the rise of a twenty first century Confederacy. Over the past few weeks alone, Black folks have been treated to the spectacle of whites storming state capitols demanding re-openings; whites  refusing to wear masks; whites refusing to socially distance, and whites saying a collective ‘fuck you’ to public health, screaming about having their rights violated by the government as police stand idly by. These “don’t tread on me” outbursts stand in stark contrast to the escalation in targeting of African Americans in public by the NYPD and LAPD, as well as with the recent terrorist murders of Breeona Taylor in Kentucky, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and George Floyd.  Taylor was killed while asleep in her bed. Arbery was gunned down in broad daylight on a jog. Floyd was slain face down on the ground while telling the officer who killed him that he was going to die. The family of Eric Garner, who was murdered in 2014 under similar circumstances by killer cops in Staten Island, New York, have had to relive painful memories of his death.

These violent assaults on Black bodies and Black communities have heightened the mental health trauma that many African Americans, especially youth, are experiencing in Covid times. The constant replay of videotaped arrests, beatings, and killings of Black folks elicit fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness in Black youth who may feel that the burden of everyday living has become too much to bear. Couple this with the closure of schools, and the elimination of the vital support services they provide, and there is virtually no quarter for youth who are suffering from the PTSD elicited by unrelenting anti-blackness.

The mental health toll of COVID suppression has also exacerbated the academic, emotional, and caregiving burdens that Black girls and girls of color have always had to shoulder. Sexism and misogynoir are intimately related in the politics of the pandemic, as Black women essential workers are simultaneously put on the line to die for their jobs and take care of their children. The U.S. is one of the few post-industrial nations without universal childcare, and its absence has had a devastating impact on the everyday lives of Black women and girls. As COVID-modified school schedules and continued “distance learning” become the norm, the childcare deficit will be even more pronounced.

Disparities in caregiving, and experiences with sexual and domestic violence, have long been unifying factors among Black and Latinx girls in South L.A. schools. Many of my students take care of younger siblings and older relatives while grappling with unaddressed trauma. During a Black feminism workshop I taught at Diego Rivera Learning Center before the COVID shutdowns, a majority of the one hundred girls who attended raised their hands when I asked whether they were expected to do caregiving duties that their male relatives were not tasked with. They rattled off babysitting and household chores as the most exhausting, time-consuming tasks they had to do.  As a result, they feel stressed out from being at home, juggling schoolwork, domestic chores, babysitting, and adult care.  In the midst of the pandemic, many of them have experienced the daily trauma of seeing their loved ones succumb to the virus and hearing 24/7 coverage of pandemic-related deaths. Many of them are also anxiety-ridden about predictions that their lives may never go back to what they knew before. And many of them must grapple with parents or caregivers who are incarcerated in a jail where they’re more likely to contract the virus, on the frontlines as essential workers, or out of work, facing food insecurity and the constant threat of becoming unhoused.

These stressors are set against the backdrop of looming state and local budget cuts to education and social services. Over the past two months since the LAUSD shut down, the activist group Students Deserve has fought to protect the rights of criminalized students of color disenfranchised by the district’s transition to distant learning.  In the City of L.A., Mayor Garcetti is angling to increase the LAPD’s budget by 7.1% for the new fiscal year. This move has been slammed by Black Lives Matter, Ground Game L.A. and K-town, who argue that Garcetti’s budget plan, which also proposes furloughing city workers and slash social services, will further devastate communities of color hardest hit by COVID. Kowtowing to a contract agreement that the City Council negotiated last year with the L.A. Police Protective League, Garcetti wants to dramatically increase LAPD overtime pay, as well as provide bonuses for officers with college degrees. Garcetti’s office has defended the increases as necessary for allowing police to transition into social welfare-oriented duties such as “homeless outreach, COVID testing and working assignments at emergency shelters”. However, any increase in police presence in L.A.’s communities automatically translates into more suppression, surveillance, and targeting of black and brown folks. Garcetti’s police state boondoggle is especially unconscionable given the multiple social welfare crises that the city’s poorest neighborhoods are facing in a city where housing is only affordable for an elite few. BLM and other community groups have spearheaded an alternative “People’s Budget” process that encourages L.A. city residents to challenge the City’s budget in an online survey and through public comment to councilmembers.

The U.S. police state is one of the most dangerous public health threats to Black wellness and mental health. Being able to breathe, to be mentally whole and healthy, in a violence and suppression free environment, has historically been a white supremacist luxury. Our children should not have to live in a nightmare America where breathing while black carries a death sentence

Future of Feminism Youth Conference: Focus on Mental Health, the Creative Arts and Organizing in Covid Times

How do we develop a Woman of Color and Girls of Color centered wellness

and creativity that acknowledges the trauma and grief we experience in 
dealing with racism/sexism and abuse in our everyday lives?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

In the Time that it Takes to Read This Poem: Black Women, Sexual Violence, and COVID

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In her 1993 poem “Won’t You Come Celebrate With Me”, Black feminist poet Lucille Clifton wrote:

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; 
come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

This month is National Poetry Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time of reckoning for and celebration of survivors, living and ancestral, crossing this bridge between starshine and clay, in COVID-19’s shadow.

Years ago, during casual conversation, Wren*, a now deceased older relative of mine, and contemporary of Clifton’s, disclosed that she had been sexually abused. Born during the early years of the Great Depression in the Deep South, she was from a generation of women accustomed to being told that the violence they experienced in their homes and families was the natural cost of being Black, female, and poor. She was that strong prototypical Black woman; heavily armored, guarding a tender heart, stealthy smile, monster work ethic, and a take no prisoners wit that dazzled and infuriated. Having no model, she couldn’t understand why “younger folks” made such a “fuss” about rape and sexual assault.  Shaping her life, she couldn’t understand why women of a more “liberated” generation didn’t just buck up and move on because “I was raped practically every day of my life”. Part of the African American exodus of Great Migration pioneers, she was fiercely proud that she’d moved to California on her own, worked any odd job she could find to support her family alone, and never had to depend on a man for support. Her stiff upper lip trauma has painful resonance as COVID-19 lays bare the disparities that survivors face in Black communities at the epicenter of the U.S.’ health care gulag.

Nationwide, African American women continue to have some of the highest rates of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and domestic abuse in the U.S. By the time they turn eighteen, it is estimated that forty to sixty percent of African American girls have experienced sexual abuse. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, Black women are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered by men than white women. Black women are also more likely to die at the hands of a current or former intimate partner than any other group in the country.

In the time that it takes to read this piece, a Black girl will have been sexually assaulted and a Black woman murdered by a husband, lover, or ex-partner.

In the time that it takes to read this piece, a Black child will be left motherless as the result of homicide by her one and only true love.

In the time that it takes to read Clifton’s poem, a Black child will be molested by a “trusted” family member who has groomed them with promises, treats, and whispers to 'stay silent'.

In the time that it takes to cross the bridge between starshine and clay, a Black child will be trafficked over and over again because the rape of a minor is a more valuable capitalist street commodity than drugs.

These brutal hidden-in-plain-sight realities have been ripped open as a result of decades of anti-violence activism. Yet, as a survivor and mentor to Black girls, I am reminded every damn day that the scope and atrocity of sexual violence has not changed significantly over the course of my lifetime. As survivors many of us are reminded that even though we fight to end child sexual abuse, and even though we “celebrate everyday something that has tried to kill us and failed”, we continue to grieve our childhoods.

Reflecting on early sessions of the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP) in the eighties, founder Byllye Avery recalled that “The number one issue for most of our sisters is violence—battering, sexual abuse. Whether they are twelve or four.” In their 2003 book, Gender Talk, Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Johnetta Cole describe NBWHP’s powerful and near heretical platform for Black women’s self-determination. “During the early years of the project, Black women broke the conspiracy of silence and dared to speak about the race secrets they’d been programmed to keep.” Then and now, these race secrets entailed unquestioned allegiance to Black patriarchy, the Black church, and Black heteronormativity. Then and now, to paraphrase Sheftall, Black folks are often more galvanized by police violence against Black men than the hidden-in-plain-sight violence that occurs every minute of every hour against Black women, girls, and children in our own homes, churches, and families.  

COVID-19 has amplified this regime of violent silence and complicity. Noting the intersection of sexual violence and COVID-related disparities, Black feminist activist, filmmaker, and author Aishah Shahidah Simmons has called institutionalized sexual abuse and sexual violence a “pandemic within a pandemic”. Rape culture as a constant, unrelenting fact is one of the many “silent” ways normalized violence and misogynoir shape the lives of Black women and Black people on a day-to-day basis regardless of viral outbreaks. Yet, the coronavirus’ devastating economic and social toll on communities of color has been insidiously reflected in skyrocketing sexual, intimate partner, and domestic violence rates.  With the escalation of the outbreak and global shutdowns, domestic violence hotlines have reported an uptick in victim calls, while providers work around the clock to provide mental health resources, shelter, and other forms of victim assistance to survivors. Shelter in place orders are especially difficult for Black girls and girls of color who, even under normal circumstances, must juggle schoolwork, caregiving, and household responsibilities. Now, many have the added burden of being at home (recognizing that home could be a group home, camper, shelter or traditional house) where they may be more likely to experience abuse without the buffer of school resources or adult advocates who provide a safe haven.

Stress and burnout related to gender-specific duties are common themes among my students. Our imperative during the pandemic has been creating safe spaces for them to write, talk, reflect, and self-care.  While feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety are pervasive symptoms of COVID’s staggering mental health impact, Black girls have always struggled with the cultural demand that they repress their emotions and “keep it moving”. This is the story that connects my grandmother’s generation to Generation Z youth coming of age in a #MeToo and “Surviving R Kelly” era still defined by the racist/sexist privileging of white female victimhood and Black male redemption.

Aishah’s new anthology Love With Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Violence addresses these issues head on. The collection, which features essays from Black diasporic child sexual abuse survivors and advocates, including me, highlights restorative justice community-building and critical resistance from an African descent perspective. In the introduction, Aishah explores her own complex history of sexual violence and the hierarchy of oppression(s) in communities of color. She argues,  “It is my affirmation that every single one of us will make the commitment to refrain from marginalizing, or, worse, condoning child sexual abuse or any other form of gender-based violence in the name of any “greater issue” which in communities of color often means solely focusing on white supremacy…the eradication of racism and white supremacy alone will not make our communities safe. We should not have to be murdered by white vigilantes, the police, or any other apparatus of the state in order for our communities to believe harm has been committed. For many survivors of child sexual abuse, physical death is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to us, especially when we have to engage with our harm-doers over and over again without any form of accountability.”

These words resonate when I think about Wren’s generation and those before hers. Black women steeped not only in the trauma and shame of ritualized anti-Black misogynist violence but in the fighting power, creativity, and resilience of thriving survival. In the time that it takes to read this piece, a Black girl might find the healing truths of a Black woman ancestor, holding onto her for dear life, crossing this bridge between starshine and clay.

*Name changed

Saturday, April 11, 2020

COVID Quackery, Faith and Race

By Sikivu Hutchinson

"I'm a Christian and there is a way that the Bible says to protect us from plagues.” This robust declaration was made by one Prophet Climate Wiseman of South London’s Kingdom Church in defense of his “divine plague protection oil” and red yarn coronavirus “cures”. Wiseman is currently under investigation by England’s Charity Commission and has charged that the secular movement and those who hate god are fueling attacks on his credibility. On his website, Wiseman also boasts that his “Miracle Pack” cure has helped millions in the UK and the U.S.  A grainy promotional video on the site depicts a Black woman using the cure to rebound from dreams about witchcraft.  Like notorious white Christian fundamentalist quack Jim Bakker, the Kingdom Church’s charlatan, who is of African descent, exploits the fears of gullible low income believers for a quick buck. Of course, faith healing and snake oil have a long, twisted legacy. Religious crooks have always used them to line their pockets while pimping divine access, but the latest crop of prophet-eers is even more pernicious when viewed within the context of a pandemic that is devastating Black communities and other communities of color.

From Evangelical defiance about holding church services to faith-based rumors of miracle cures (e.g. Trump's widely refuted claims about hydroxychloroquine) and urban legend conspiracy theories minimizing the outbreak, COVID quackery is a virus unto itself. On the far right, COVID denialists and skeptics hold court at Fox News, ginning up vitriol while portraying the pandemic as a Democratic conspiracy to hijack Trump’s reelection. After the U.S. outbreak accelerated in March, homophobic white evangelical pastors framed COVID as a symptom of God’s judgment against immoral LGBTQ communities. Right wing Christian Trump supporters like Billy Graham offspring Franklin Graham ran TV ads exhorting viewers to call in to his ministry and pray for forgiveness. Liberty University head Jerry Falwell Jr., another spawn of a right wing fundamentalist dynasty, told Fox that coronavirus might be a “bioweapon manufactured in North Korea”.  

In Kansas, four deadly coronavirus clusters came from religious gatherings. After Kansas governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order banning gatherings of more than ten people, it was vetoed by Republicans. As a result, Kelly asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn the Republican veto and uphold the ban. In advance of Easter, Kentucky’s Democratic governor announced that he would require those who violate a state order on large gatherings, including at churches, to quarantine for fourteen days. Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who made headlines when he tested positive for coronavirus last month, slammed the decision as anti-Christian discrimination.

On the flip side, some in the African American community initially shrugged off the seriousness of COVID. As recently as last week, my mother was asked by a man in the grocery store why she was wearing a mask. “You know Black folks can’t get it, right?” He chuckled. A cousin routinely refers to the pandemic as the so-called coronavirus outbreak. Although science skepticism among Black folks was historically tied to institutionalized white supremacist medical apartheid targeting black bodies, the persistence of myths that African Americans are “immune” to COVID is also part of a larger climate of faith-based and reactionary pushback. Case in point is a widely circulated tweet suggesting that “immunity” is “God’s” reward for Black folks enduring slavery.

Faith-based denialism and quackery are especially insidious given deep racial disparities in work, health access, and contraction rates. Writing in a March Christianity Today article, authors Elaine Howard and Deidra Coleman speculated that anxiety about the virus might be a form of privilege. Black folks could be far too preoccupied with struggling to provide for their families in the day-to-day to be concerned about taking precautions. In addition, blue collar Black workers are less likely to have paid sick leave and job benefits that safeguard them from layoffs. They are also the least likely to be employed in jobs that allow them to telework.

In her article, “On Being Black, Southern and Rural in the Time of COVID-19”, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson examines the role subpar health care access expansion has played in the rapidly accelerating number of Black folks affected by COVID. Henderson zeroes in on the failure of many Southern states to fund Medicaid expansions. The absence of health care access contributes to a violent self-fulfilling prophecy—African Americans are shut out of the health care system, are more likely to have underlying conditions exacerbated by these gaps in health care, are not fully educated about the dangers of COVID, and consequently end up contracting the disease in disproportionate numbers.

Responding to skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Chicago’s African American community, mayor Lori Lightfoot has created a Racial Equity Rapid Response team that focuses on providing communities with information, health resources, and science-based education. On the federal level, Congressional Black Caucus chair and Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass is pursuing a bill that will provide COVID education, treatment, and funding for African American community-based organizations. Measures would also be put in place to ensure release of and protections for incarcerated populations who are most imperiled by the pandemic. In Milwaukee, where half of the city’s cases are Africa American, the health commissioner said, “We declared racism as a public health issue...It frames not only how we do our work, but how transparent we are. It impacts how we manage an outbreak.” Milwaukee was one of the first cities to publish its racial data and develop an action plan for disproportionately affected communities. Science-based education and data, equitable testing and treatment, rejecting faith-based hysteria, and pushing for a racial justice stimulus that specifically addresses the public health legacy of racism, poverty, and white supremacy are the best weapons for loosening COVID’s deadly grip.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Black Skeptics L.A. COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund

In times of crisis, secular communities of color, as well as queer and LGBTQIA+ communities, are often forced to rely on religious and faith-based institutions for aid and assistance. The BSLA fund is designed to provide immediate assistance to secular people of color and their families -- across religious affiliation -- during the pandemic, when Black, Latinx, indigenous and Asian communities are experiencing record rates of homelessness, joblessness, health disparities, and educational disruption.

Fund Application Link: