Black coronavirus deaths have exposed Britain for what it really is

In some parts of the media, the tragedy that is the Covid-19 Bame death rate disparity has not been treated the way it should

Nels Abbey
Thursday 07 May 2020 20:43 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has officially revealed what many have long suspected: Bame people, and notably black people, are at significantly increased risk of dying from coronavirus.

The ONS report states that: “When taking into account age in the analysis, black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death and black females are 4.3 times more likely than white ethnicity males and females.”

Let that sink in: four times more likely. Black people are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than our white brothers and sisters. The obvious follow-up question is why?

In terms of identifying the root causes of this huge and alarming disparity, there is a lot to unpack. And there is a lot of soul-searching and remedying to be done.

Knowing our society as well as black people are forced to, I am cautiously confident that the one area that is most likely to be played down in any root cause analysis of this disparity is the area that is probably the most relevant and important: socioeconomic disadvantage.

From incarceration to unemployment to inadequate healthcare, and from poor education to a lack of representation in key professions (journalism and government in particular), there is scarcely a measure of socio-economic disadvantage in our society where black people are not leading or near the pinnacle of the “league”. This is the result of racialised, social and economic structures which have been allowed to develop over decades and which have now finally exploded for the world to see, thanks to this pandemic.

Disparity breeds disparity. Disadvantage breeds disadvantage. Racism, however, breeds disparities, disadvantage and distrust.

Case in point: during this period, Bame people have desperately needed the government and the media to recognise the importance of being able to trust them. We needed authoritativeness, responsibility, professionalism and trustworthiness. We needed compassion… but what we got was condescension.

Perhaps the most needless own goal in recent relations between the Tories in government and their non-white citizens, was the appointment of Trevor Phillips by Public Health England to serve on an inquiry into the death-rate disparity.

I don’t believe they could have picked a person less trusted, less credible and more unacceptable to Bame communities than Phillips – a man currently suspended from the Labour Party for alleged Islamophobia (his relationship with the black community is probably even frailer than it is with the Muslim community).

Phillips’ appointment was met with uproar in Bame communities far and wide.

Sadly, and unwisely, the government dug their heels in: during the Covid-19 press briefing on Sunday 3 May, Michael Gove proudly flaunted the fact that Trevor Phillips had been appointed to advise the inquiry. This all but confirmed that the government was happy to ignore weeks of sustained complaint, fears and public pleas for them to reconsider, with the public concerns of several MPs, the Muslim Council of Britain, InfluencHer ​ a cross-industry open letter from 100 black women, Baroness Warsi, Lord Wolley, journalist Afua Hirsch, and an umbrella group representing tens of thousands of NHS doctors all having no impact on the government’s decision.

When a football team buys a top striker like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it means they want to win the league. When an asset management company hires a person with Warren Buffet’s track record and reputation, it means they want to become the king of the square mile. When a government appoints Trevor Phillips to advise a death rate inquiry for communities that largely take issue with his politics, it seems it is destined to go nowhere. Dead on departure, let alone arrival.

Cementing this fact: on the very day PHE announced his appointment, Phillips went on Sky News to say that socioeconomic factors were not relevant based on the “data we do have“.

In some parts of the media, the tragedy that is the Covid-19 Bame death rate disparity has not been treated like a tragedy at all. In fact, it has been treated almost as if Bame people have been naughty and are now throwing a tantrum after being told to behave.

The Daily Telegraph ran an article (written by the CEO of the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, Civitas) titled: “Campaigners are twisting Bame Covid data to further their ‘victimhood’ agenda’”. Spiked, a publication known for pushing controversial views, said the “The identitarian lobby hates Phillips because he rejects the cult of victimhood”. Others spoke of the “victimhood mob“ when describing the legitimate alarm ethnic minorities were expressing about a range of issues in relation to Covid-19. In fact, a Google news search of the term “victimhood” shows that in the British media, it is almost exclusively used in a pejorative way about the concerns of ethnic minorities.

The objective of the victimhood slur is, of course, to shame Bame communities into silence and compliance. In reality, speaking up is not a sign of victimhood – it is a sign of profound courage and bravery. It’s much easier (and more lucrative) to keep quiet and collaborate.

The media and the government surely only need limited reserves of empathy to understand the very rational fear Bame people will feel when they see themselves overrepresented in montage after montage of those who have died from this terrible virus. But they also need to understand that in this new Covid world, Bame people, especially black people, need to be able to trust officialdom. To be able to take their word to the bank. To expect them to reflect and properly represent them and not take advantage of them or dismiss their concerns as ”victimhood.”

In fact, the response of the government and some sections of the media is a reflection of how we arrived at such a huge Bame death-rate disparity: our pain, lives and concerns are rarely taken seriously.

Black people are arguably the most established and integrated ethnic group in Britain. In terms of sports, arts, culture and other areas, on the world stage: modern Britain is synonymous with black people and the cultural capital we’ve created. We fly the flag with pride and represent with honour. But what do we get out of the deal? Fatal vulnerability to a virus no one knew about six months ago and being labelled a “victimhood mob” for not dying in silence and with a smile?

The shameful black death rate disparity shows that post-Covid, we have to get serious about equality, justice and diversity at all levels of British society. No more stunts and no more business as usual. Never again must any British ethnic group be left vulnerable. And never should any group be dismissed for speaking up.

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