COVID-19 From One Black Perspective

By Monique Gaskins

This year has not gone as expected. I’ve hesitated to address our country’s current situation because there are so many different issues impacting us right now. In Portland, there won’t be a return to normality for the foreseeable future. Many people are struggling with feelings of anxiety, our economic indicators show vast discrepancies across socioeconomic groups, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic– with limitations to our physical movements and social interactions, and underneath everything, is a widespread awakening to the struggles and injustices that Black people have experienced for hundreds of years. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.” In other words, while changing our behaviors to lower our risk of exposure to COVID-19, we may also be feeling anxious or stressed. Since we are practicing social distancing to help lower our exposure risk and opportunities to spread the disease to others, we might be isolated from our friends, family, religious organizations, and other support systems. For some people, this anxiety and isolation have led to an increase in suicidal thoughts. The CDC finds reports of suicidal ideation to be higher in Hispanic and Black individuals than in the general population. As neighbors and friends, we can respond to these facts by intentionally checking in on friends and family. 

Unsurprisingly, the increase in uncertainty has manifested itself in the economic realm too. Unemployment rates are significantly higher than they were earlier this year. In August, as I write this article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Oregon’s unemployment rate at 10% for July. In February of this year, before the impact of the Coronavirus became widespread, our unemployment rate was 3%. Oregon’s state legislature has responded with a moratorium on evictions (currently through September 30th) and a six month grace period to pay back rent. This bill should provide some relief to Oregonians impacted by job loss or underemployment this year. Again, Black people might struggle from an outsized impact from job loss. Although Black Americans constitute 13% of the U.S. population, they hold less than 3% of the country’s wealth. Many systemic reasons are contributing to this discrepancy, but the result is that Black people may have a smaller safety net and a more difficult time finding a new job if they are laid off, furloughed, or able to access fewer shifts. 

Systemic racism as demonstrated by police violence and political apathy has played a prominent role in mainstream media this summer. Across our country, Americans can watch recordings of police officers killing Black Americans while suffering few consequences. An organization called Mapping Police Violence measures 751 fatalities from police violence from January 1st to August 24th of this year. Although Black people represent 13% of the United States’ population, they represent 28% of these deaths. Across the country, this has sparked discussions about defunding the police and using that money to instead support social services and other organizations to uplift our communities rather than relying on disciplinary-first tactics. 

The city of Portland’s 2021 budget, including funds for the Portland Police Bureau, was approved even after racial unrest and protests had become more prominent. Although some organizations and city council members supported a more significant cut to the Portland Police Bureau’s budget, only a fraction of that proposed 50 million dollars was re-routed to other parts of the city’s budget. However, Portlanders have dedicated their time and risked their safety to continue to push for changes from the Police Bureau and our city’s leadership.

The impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic are being felt differently by different parts of our population. Black people are more likely to be negatively impacted in many ways; we are more susceptible to economic instability, more likely to hold jobs that increase exposure risks, and more likely to suffer from the effects of police violence. Through the repeated acts of public violence against Black people, it may feel like society is saying that Black Lives do not matter. Locally, our city’s protests demonstrate empathy for Black Lives from a majority white city. Protesters demonstrate their willingness to risk their safety in solidarity with Black people by showing up nightly and standing against police brutality. Portland’s recurring protests demonstrate that there are people in our communities who are willing to support Black Lives.

I’m a Black Portlander, and this is only my opinion. I’m sure my background is very different from many other Black Portlanders. My perspective cannot represent everyone’s point of view. But, if any of this resonates with you, there are ways for you to provide support. Locally, you can join nightly protests or donate to the Black Resilience Fund or PAALF (Portland African American Leadership Forum). Local organizations, like Black Feast, also support Black joy as their way of resisting the violence and inequality felt by many Black Americans. You can donate to these organizations or support Black-owned businesses and artists here in Portland. 

Across the country, many professors, authors, and artists have shared resources to help us understand racism better. We have options spanning books, articles, movies, and podcasts such as Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The 1619 Podcast by the New York Times, and “Where do I donate” by Courtney Martin. We can support national and local elections and get out the vote campaigns. Portland’s next mayor and potential Police Bureau Commissioner will be decided in this cycle along with national leadership. There is no reason for us to sit on the sidelines. This year has not gone as expected. COVID-19 highlights some of our systemic failures and shortcomings. This year has been challenging for so many people; I hope that we can look at our collective weaknesses and take this opportunity to build a more just society.

Sources: 

CDC – stress from coronavirus: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html#:~:text=The%20coronavirus%20disease%202019%20(,services%20you%20rely%20on.

CNN – increase in suicidal thoughts: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/14/health/young-people-suicidal-ideation-wellness/index.html

Oregon unemployment statistics: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.or.htm

Rent moratorium: https://multco.us/chair-kafoury/covid-19-eviction-moratorium-information#:~:text=If%20you%20are%20a%20tenant,for%20nonpayment%20during%20the%20moratorium.&text=Tenants%20will%20have%20a%20six,rent%20from%20the%20moratorium%20period.

NPR – Black Americans and Covid 19: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/868469779/black-americans-bear-the-brunt-of-the-covid-19-pandemics-economic-impact

Mapping police violence: https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

Paalf defund police: https://www.paalf.org/defund

Police budget: https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2020/06/portland-passes-budget-with-millions-in-cuts-to-police-spending-but-short-of-public-demand-for-50-million-reduction.html

Resources:

Where do I donate: https://thebolditalic.com/where-do-i-donate-why-is-the-uprising-violent-should-i-go-protest-5cefeac37ef9

Just Mercy: https://justmercy.eji.org/

1619 Podcast: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html

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