Should Black Lives Matter protesters be condemned for protesting during a worldwide pandemic?
This issue is a very tricky one, it really is. It’s essentially being perceived as racism or COVID-19, so which do we tackle? They are both big problems and they both cause horrible situations in people’s lives, so there will inevitably be a divide around the current situation based on how big people perceive each issue to be. Therefore I’d like to encourage an open discourse, because branding somebody as being a ‘racist’ for misunderstanding a complex issue can be reductionist, and can cause an even greater divide.
Personally, I am a mixed-race individual who has experienced racism in his life. I also am unable to attend BLM protests due to being in regular exposure of an at-risk family member. Both of these issues have and do affect me.
In America, black people are 4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 which is a direct consequence of systemic racism because they live in poverty-driven areas leading to worse sanitary conditions. This video by act.tv explains exactly why these conditions are a consequence of racism. Yet it is those people most at-risk who are protesting in masses, which surely signifies just how big of a problem black people of today perceive racism to be. Not comprehending the real size of the issues surrounding racism, comes from a perspective of white privilege. In other words, you don’t experience it, so you don’t notice it as much.
This is also true in the UK, with BAME groups being up to 2 times more likely to die with COVID-19 than white groups. Here is the official government report which confirms “the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them”. Each person, within this moral dilemma, is weighing up which is the bigger issue. If black people, statistically more likely to die from COVID-19, still think it’s worth protesting, perhaps you should too?
A large part of the problem is perceiving ‘solving COVID-19’ and ‘protesting BLM’ as mutually exclusive options. In other words, we can’t do both at the same time. However, by practising good use of PPE, and diverting our attention towards COVID-19 accelerators that aren’t as important as these protests, I believe the two can be more mutual than one may expect.
The government are opening schools again and telling those who cannot work from home to go back which has caused an influx in the use of public transport. They also encourage outdoor exercise as many times as people like with no limitation on how wide or far people can travel which has resulted in masses gathering together on beaches all across the UK – and these are just some of the are many threats to the COVID-19 numbers staying down.
You’re all mad about London protests and Covid 19? Funny that because your beaches where full last week? And your parks? pic.twitter.com/OEOxpLFJ5F— Rebecca Ferguson (@RebeccaFMusic) June 4, 2020
With that in mind, it may make more sense to promote people not participating in these various pointless threats so COVID-19 numbers stay down, rather than fixating on the one which is attempting to save lives and improve living conditions for black people that will continue to be an issue long after COVID-19 is dealt with if nothing changes now. Or better yet, it may make even more sense to promote activism towards pressuring governments to give in to the BLM movement demands which will actually contribute to both problems being solved.
You might dismiss this article and think this is just one person’s view who perhaps doesn’t fully comprehend the gravity of COVID-19 but in fact, I am joined by many health care professionals who are also advocating for the protests as seen by this letter signed by over one thousand professionals explaining their reason behind doing so, including that a successful outcome from these protests will save many more lives now and in the future. I want to draw your attention to a specific paragraph in the letter;
White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19. Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police compared to white people, but the effects of racism are far more pervasive. Black people suffer from dramatic health disparities in life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, chronic medical conditions, and outcomes from acute illnesses like myocardial infarction and sepsis. Biological determinants are insufficient to explain these disparities.
They result from long-standing systems of oppression and bias which have subjected people of color to discrimination in the healthcare setting, decreased access to medical care and healthy food, unsafe working conditions, mass incarceration, exposure to pollution and noise, and the toxic effects of stress. Black people are also more likely to develop COVID-19. Black people with COVID-19 are diagnosed later in the disease course and have a higher rate of hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, and death. COVID-19 among Black patients is yet another lethal manifestation of white supremacy. In addressing demonstrations against white supremacy, our first statement must be one of unwavering support for those who would dismantle, uproot, or reform racist institutions.
Whether you like it or not, the time is now or it may never be again. If they were to simply ‘postpone’ these protests, who is to say if they would ever be able to get the social media and real-life momentum that the movement currently has. If we succeed then the lives that will be saved, and the quality of life that will be improved, will last for centuries after COVID-19 has been dealt with. The benefits are potentially everlasting, making the numbers of lives we save by advocating for these demands an incomprehensible number.
You might then say that there are other ways to get things across. They have been tried. They have not been heard. The BLM movement has actually existed for four years and attempted many peaceful measures but the fact you aren’t aware of them demonstrates how ineffective they were. The government has had at least four years to respond (although the reality is they have had much longer given that the issues surrounding police brutality and systematic racism have been on the radar for far, far longer).
Which is why we currently find ourselves in the midsts of protests and riots because these methods have been extremely successful in the past, and there are many great examples of riots working successfully, like the riots following Martin Luther King’s death which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Those riots had some nasty things happen in them, but all of that was outweighed by the good brought by passing such an act.
Another example is the first pride demonstration which was actually a riot and not a parade and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the suffragettes and how they gained traction. If you want to find out more about examples of protests and riots being successful the check out this list on Bustle, proving that sometimes, when nobody listens, you have to take more drastic measures to catch people’s attention.
George Floyd was the straw that broke the camels back. Do you blame the camel for the inconvenient timing of its back-breaking? Or do you blame government institutions for ignoring systemic racism regardless of past peaceful protests up until the point that the world revolts into violent protests?
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