Trying to Survive a Pandemic While Black

By D'Angelo Cameron on January, 4 2021

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D'Angelo Cameron

Senior Digital Engagement Manager. “I work at Common Justice because I believe in the power of digital media as a tool to change the narrative around incarceration and justice in the United States.”

Surviving a pandemic is almost impossible in a country founded on anti-Blackness. 

At 26, I survived COVID-19. It's sobering to think that the virus responsible for bringing the world to its knees and has taken the lives of so many, spared me. I'm writing about my experience not to say that COVID-19 isn't as bad as it looks because it's quite the contrary. This virus affected my body in ways I couldn't fathom, and despite reaching out to get testing or medical care I was denied at every turn. My story is not uncommon, for many Black and Brown people living in historically under-resourced communities COVID-19 is causing us to suffer in silence, never knowing if our symptoms are virus-related or not, until it's too late.

Outcomes for Black Americans battling COVID-19 are stark at best. That's assuming you can even get tested. During my two weeks of agony, I experienced excruciating pains all over my body, loss of smell and taste, shortness of breath, and fatigue that made leaving my bed almost impossible. I tried every avenue to get tested to no avail, yet was reminded every hour of a new round of celebrities who tested positive. Each time I wondered "How did they get a test?"

Privilege is how.

Once testing expanded in the city of New York, my partner, a nurse working at a hospital in Brooklyn, started having symptoms and tried to get a test. We both assumed because he was a healthcare worker on the front lines, that surely he'd get access. We were wrong. The medical center he went to had just one test to service the entirety of the Crown Heights neighborhood where the facility was located. Despite clearly experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we were told to just quarantine and wait it out.

The morbidity rate for Black people during this pandemic is alarming. In cities like Chicago, Black people make up an astounding 68 percent of COVID-19 fatalities. As I write this, CNN is still asking its correspondents why this pandemic is hitting Black communities so hard. The answer is no secret. Since the inception of the United States, systemic oppression has all but guaranteed that Black communities are under-resourced in every area. The inability to access healthcare providers and consistent inadequate care are a generational issue, one that our country has shown very little interest in fixing. This creates a perfect storm for the COVID-19 Pandemic to claim the lives of our loved ones.

There is nothing about our skin color or ancestry that makes COVID-19 more likely to kill us. What is killing us is years of systemic inequality, lack of access to quality housing, and healthcare. All of these issues have plagued Black communities in the United States for generations, leading to many of the pre-existing conditions that make surviving this virus so difficult.

I can't imagine experiencing symptoms worse than the "mild" ones I had. Intense chills and shaking muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and other symptoms I hope to never relive. However, the reality is, there are others like myself not able to access care that have to deal with more severe symptoms of COVID-19 infection by themselves.

This pandemic has underscored what we have always known to be true about systemic inequality in this country. Until we actually address the racial and structural inequality of our country, unfavorable health outcomes for Black communities will remain unchanged. A pandemic, as we've seen with COVID-19, exacerbates them.

D'Angelo Cameron is the Digital Media Manager for Common Justice. Before joining Common Justice, he was the Online Campaigns Producer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where he led strategic rapid response and digital advocacy campaigns on issues that threatened civil rights and liberties.

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