IT does seem vapid to devote space and time to writing about the fact that P Diddy and his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were on Instagram sharing a dance or which artiste released what album. How do we sustain the interest of readers who may now be experiencing fatigue from the bleak reports pertaining to Covid-19 infection statistics within the country and globally? Just how well are people coping with the structural defects within their societies, given this pandemic and the socio-cultural impact of it all? This week, allow me to sift through the avalanche of messages and stories I have had to wade through and pick just a few that struck me and why.
Blues is the nickname I heard folks in my childhood township give to the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo. So far, the city has recorded five Covid-19 cases, with one death. We are singing the blues right now because of that in this part of the country and may yet be hollering raucously in a short while.
Still, I do not know how the city’s nickname came about. What I know is that it has been around for a long time. But the term also refers to an American music genre. The term also denotes sorrow and despair. The blues are what you get when you have no money, when you are hungry and when you are sick.
Black Americans invented the blues and the music served as a chronicle of just how dire the slave plantations and segregation were in the American south. Although blues music as a genre is not as popular as it may have been in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, its message still reverberates in present-day America.
The pandemic is shoring up the fact that black people are among some of the hardest hit communities in the United States. The US is reeling because of the pandemic with 609 516 cases and 26 057 deaths at last count. Media reports carry US government data from the Centres for Disease Control suggesting that 33% of those in that country hospitalised for coronavirus are black.
African-Americans constitute only 13% of the US population. Moreover, in cities such as Washington and Chicago, nearly 70% of those who died from coronavirus were African-American and this is against the fact that 23% of the population is black.
Surgeon-General Jerome Adams, who is black, revealed in a presser that many ethnic minority communities have a higher risk due to pre-existing health and social factors such as low-income jobs where working from home is not an option. Oprah Winfrey did a recent report in which she brings to the fore this subject of major concern.
The power of social media is so stark in this moment we are living through and this became so apparent to me while reading another report by CNN quoting basketball legend Magic Johnson: “People went out there spreading the word that blacks couldn’t get it. Blacks thought they couldn’t get HIV and Aids. It’s the same thing as the coronavirus. It reminds me going back 30 years, we were all wrong.”
Johnson said the Covid-19 crisis is like déjà vu of the misinformation surrounding HIV in the early days.
I personally recall talk that the disease was only contracted by gays and white folk. Admittedly, the thought that we as a people are invulnerable to this disease was very seductive, albeit in a twisted way.
It did not help matters when our Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri commented that the disease was God’s punishment to the West for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe. The statement may have unwittingly been a result of the tragic myths around the disease, and also may have fed the same myth because it was widely reported by many international media houses.
It gained so much traction globally that now, in retrospect, I wonder why. Pandering to myths and superstition makes us vulnerable as a people. So much has happened to us that we may now be given to believing that something will magically or supernaturally protect and avenge us when facing perceived enemies. While Covid-related deaths across the global racial divide are a waking reality, poverty and the loss of humanity dignity appear to be skewed heavily against black folk.
According to Nikole Hannah Jones, a reporter with the New York Times, what the coronavirus pandemic has done is to “magnify the inequalities that were already there and now it’s forcing us to confront them”. Oprah Winfrey recently talked about “mindfully” dealing with this pandemic “whilst holding onto ourselves and our humanity” in her recent programme. I totally agree.
As a people who fought an armed liberation struggle and received support from China, we arguably have at least a historical justification for regarding the Chinese as friends. Actually, China has been trading with Africa for over 300 years. The relationship is not new and has not involved overt coloniality and oppression. The current pandemic has now exposed the fact that black people are regarded as one and the same: expendable.
Some Chinese people are exposing the racism of their society. The reports have filtered through of the ill-treatment of Africans, including black Americans, in China by landlords who are evicting blacks and unleashing violence on them. One report after another carries the same theme of racial discrimination.
The ostensible reason for the discrimination is the fear that Africans are bringing the disease. But everyone knows that Covid-19 is not an “African disease” in that sense. So, it is befuddling how the link is being made between Africa and the disease as to cause the hysterical and unjustified treatment of black people over there. The black man is feared and hated everywhere.
Whereas African governments who are deep in the pockets of the Chinese may wish to manage the optics surrounding the global outrage over the racially charged incidents, the fact is that the Chinese authorities need to act decisively to deal with malcontents and show that the reported incidents do not reflect their general attitude toward us as Africans. It is a matter of time really before the lies and the truth emerge. We just want reciprocity, respect and humane treatment.