Coronavirus: The view across Black America

By Jon Jeter
The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder 

Similar to Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago, the global coronavirus pandemic is shining a light on America’s racial fault lines.

At ground zero of the U.S. pandemic, New York City, only essential services are allowed to remain open: groceries, drug stores, liquor stores, hardware stores, and restaurants that offer delivery. Grocery store shelves remain well-stocked, but cold and flu medicines are in short supply in drug stores.

In Harlem, Margaret Kimberley, an author and columnist for Black Agenda Report, wrote on Facebook: “People are riding the subway, but there are so few that you really can practice social distancing even on public transportation. I’d say half of the people I see outside are wearing masks, myself included. Some are makeshift affairs, scarves tightly tied around the mouth for example. . .

“To prevent people crowding onto buses,” Kimberley continued, “we are now allowed to enter through the back door. This is something poor people always did. Now everyone can ride for free… I got my hair braided yesterday, the last day before beauty shops had to close. I wasn’t alone, but there were a lot fewer people than you would see there on a normal Saturday. I went but wore my mask.”

Perhaps the most jarring description from Kimberley was the gallows humor that has descended on Harlem’s Black community as many discuss the Trump administration’s plans for emergency grants. “Lots of folks are out of work. People are making jokes about getting checks from Trump but I think it is no joke. Folks were struggling before this, and the $1,000 they’re expecting will come in handy.”

It is by no means strictly doom and gloom, however. Across the country, communities are banding together to help each other weather the storm.

Activists with the Community Ready Corps are distributing Corona Kits—hand sanitizer, N95 masks, and brochures—immune-boosting care packages of garlic, ginger, turmeric, lentils and oats, and even books to Oakland’s Black community focusing on the elderly, the sickly, and even stir-crazy kids.

Opened four years ago amid a food desert on Indianapolis’ east side, the Trap has pivoted sharply to a web-only eatery that is preparing to ship its shrink-wrapped healthy seafood nationwide. A retired schoolteacher in New Jersey volunteered to knit surgical masks for mostly nurses of color treating coronavirus patients at a local hospital.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Blacks are joining Whites in long lines to buy ammunition, preparing, it would seem, for violent racial conflict. Fittingly perhaps, several Blacks say that the least difficult adjustment in confronting the scourge is social distancing, particularly as it pertains to White people.

Said one African American man in Indianapolis, “I been trying to keep my distance from White people my entire life.” Jon Jeter is a freelance journalist writer and social critic He formerly worked for several major newspapers, including the Washington Post before becoming an independent journalist.

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