Protests Against Lockdown Reveal That Staying Home Is Often a Racial Privilege
Home is the safest place for all of us to be, but as an African-American, this is an exceptional privilege.
As a black woman living in New York City, I've always felt that home is the safest place to be. At home I can be exactly who I am, free of judgment, profiling, cat calls, and unwelcome follows around my local beauty supply. So for the first two weeks after New York's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic, I thrived. I blasted my hip hop and 90’s R&B without a care, refused to code switch, and wore my hair in its large afro'd state, free to be the most authentic version of myself—which includes all the blackness that's been dismissed and discouraged my entire life. Aside from protecting myself from the threat of contracting COVID-19, I felt protected from white supremacy, which creates never-ending stress and anxiety the moment I walk out the door in my brown skin.
And then the reports started rolling in. Black people across the country are dying at alarming rates compared to their white counterparts. While America at large ask why, black Americans already know the answer. Black Americans are overrepresented in 90% of the low-wage, high-contact essential services jobs, such as restaurant workers and medical assistants. That means we risk contracting coronavirus every time we step out of the door of our homes.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1 in 5 black Americans can do their jobs at home, and I am one of those lucky few. When I order takeout, go to the grocery store, or run to the pharmacy, I’m overwhelmingly greeted by black and brown faces. These essential workers are on the frontlines of the pandemic as well, helping all of us retain a sliver of normalcy in our isolated lives.
Recent protests to “liberate America” from state stay-at-home orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic—a real virus that is killing black and brown people disproportionately—reeks of the very privilege that should be associated with staying home. Social distancing keeps every single American safe from contracting coronavirus, but especially those considered essential workers, the people who provide the services that allow us to remain at home comfortably and without fear.
I stay home to protect those who cannot afford to, as should everyone else. I stay home for those with pre-existing conditions, which also disproportionately affect African-Americans. I stay home for the black people in my hometown of Chicago, where we make up only 30% of the population but 68% of the coronavirus death toll. I stay home whenever possible, because even when we’re trying to protect ourselves and others in the most uncertain of times, we’re still over-policed and profiled.
Every American is affected by the coronavirus to some degree, but it would be remiss to believe the coronavirus makes all of us societally equal to those who have been disenfranchised, discriminated against, or isolated by pre-pandemic society.
It would also be remiss to say that home may not be the safest place for everyone, especially due to recent spikes in domestic violence during quarantine. Home is where you feel the most safe and loved, whether that’s a suburban bungalow with your closest relatives, or a tiny Brooklyn apartment with two roommates. For me, home is where I’m free to be me and discover who I am away from a world that constantly devalues my existence—while I work to protect those who have become shields as the levees holding in systemic racism and an unjust health care system break around us.
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