A common question heard during the Covid crisis is this: “When will things go back to normal?” But people of color don’t want to return to what is “normal”: daily racist violence by police, children in ICE cages, homelessness, mass incarceration, distressed schools, job and food insecurity, and lack of healthcare.
This is the same nightmarish “normal” that led to the tragic death of Rana Zoe Mungin of Brooklyn, New York, a 30-year-old teacher with asthma. Mungin, who was Black and female, was twice turned away from hospitals before she died of coronavirus, told that she was only having a panic attack.
Millions of people in the U.S. today face unprecedented economic anxiety and fear for their very survival. People of color, however, have endured these conditions for centuries, beginning with the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans. Now, people of color are dying and suffering from Covid-19 completely out of proportion to their numbers in the population.
Devastating our communities
Communities of color and the poor who already lacked decent healthcare and sanitation now lack access to Covid testing and personal protective equipment. They suffer in high numbers from illnesses like diabetes and asthma because of racism in environmental conditions and access to healthcare. Transgender people of color especially face multi-layered barriers to medical care.
Countless workers of color are employed in at-risk, low-paid jobs with no option to work from home. Dozens of grocery staffers have perished. Nearly 100 transit personnel have died as of late April, 68 of them in New York City. In NYC, as is true elsewhere, the overwhelming majority of frontline workers are women, people of color, and immigrants, with racial minorities making up 70 percent of healthcare workers, for example.
Just doing their jobs is now putting frontline workers in danger. Some, however, like immigrant farmworkers, are unlikely to ever see a government stimulus check.
Covid and the government response to it are showing starkly that the lives of people of color do not matter under capitalism. Outbreaks have begun in prisons and immigrant detention centers, where the virus has the potential to spread like wildfire among the trapped populations. And enforcement of social distancing has given police one more excuse to criminalize and abuse people of color, especially Black and brown youth.
In counties where Black residents are the majority, the rate of deaths is almost six times the rate in counties where whites predominate. Overall, one current estimate is that Blacks are dying from this coronavirus at almost three times the rate for whites. Latinx people are similarly losing their lives in numbers greater than their representation in the population.
In Puerto Rico, no one had received a stimulus check by late in April, and virus testing lags behind elsewhere in the U.S. Native Americans make up 16 percent of Covid-19 deaths in Arizona, while constituting only six percent of the population. As of April 28, the Navajo nation had nearly 1,900 confirmed cases and 60 deaths.
Meanwhile, racist violence against Asians has proliferated in the U.S., fueled by Trump’s insistence on calling the disease the “Chinese virus.” The powers-that-be have once again resurrected the “yellow peril” to scapegoat Asians and “foreignize” Asian Americans. In a bid to pit communities of color against each other, some reports of anti-Asian assaults focus on those perpetrated by other people of color. We must not let tactics like these divide us!
Women of color are especially at risk. The inequities they experience as a “normal” matter of course put them in the crosshairs of the pandemic and its abominable mishandling by the government. They are overrepresented in the lowest-paid jobs, including food service, cleaning and other domestic work. They are also likely to lack health insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave. This helps to explain why Black and Native American women die from causes related to childbirth at a rate about triple that of white women. Immigrant women, especially if they are undocumented, face special hurdles, hardships and dangers.
And, if the attempts to further restrict abortion rights under cover of the pandemic succeed, abortions will become even more inaccessible to women of color and poor women.
Capitalism: deadly pre-existing condition
Why are communities of color more vulnerable? Contrary to what white supremacists would like us to think, it’s not due to any biological inferiority of non-whites but to the material conditions caused by capitalism. Poverty and the racism and segregation in work life, healthcare and housing are the reasons why disproportionate numbers of people of color are dying of Covid.
From the time of its beginnings, the capitalist class in the U.S. has used racism and sexism to justify genocide, land theft, slavery, low wages, and inhumane treatment, while piling up super-profits and dividing the working class. The riches of this country have been built on the backs of workers of color, immigrants, women, and other specially oppressed and super-exploited groups, like LGBTQ+ people, young workers, and people with disabilities. And this continues to be the case.
The coronavirus was only the trigger for the current economic breakdown, and no country has been spared the health crisis or the financial meltdown. Global capitalism was headed for a fall long before Covid appeared. And the inequality built into this brutal system is the reason why the next cataclysm again will most gravely impact people of color, women, and the world’s poor, whether that disaster turns out to be an environmental catastrophe or infectious disease. The foreseeable crises of the future also will again lead to a rise in scapegoating and organizing by the ultra-right, as we see at this moment internationally.
A new normal is possible
The good news is that working and oppressed people around the world have the opportunity now to fight for and create together a new “normal.” In the U.S., this will entail a militant multiracial movement fighting for a changed status quo where healthcare is universal and accessible to everyone, regardless of income or immigration status. Where workers receive 40 hours pay for 30 hours work to produce jobs for all. Where people of color are not only essential workers, but are treated as essential human beings.
Communities of color have a history of resistance and are right now pressing alongside white comrades to win survival demands, like freeing prisoners and canceling rents. Rank-and-file workers, unionized and not, are staging wildcat strikes for safer conditions on the job. It’s a crucial time for labor leaders to step up and support protections for workers, both economic and physical, rather than wasting the movement’s resources on the campaigns of Democratic Party politicians.
People of color deserve nothing less than a society free of racism and based on an equal distribution of the necessities and comforts of life. Everyone in society will benefit when the most oppressed rise. The fate of workers around the world is tied together. The leadership of people of color is crucial to the victory of humanity, because we have the least to lose and the most to gain from replacing capitalism with a new global system. That system has a name: socialism. And it is the only way out of this mess.
Statement issued by the joint National Comrades of Color Caucus of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women