We are in a crisis within a crisis within a crisis. The Grenfell Tower inquiry is still ongoing and who knows what’s happening with the Windrush one?! Now, in the middle of a pandemic disproportionately killing more BME nurses and doctors, the government is rushing through another one, where the student gets to mark their own work. Lest we forget, the Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's House.
Black people, like many other ethnic minorities, are more likely to have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease putting them at increased risk. Black workers are also more reliant on the gig-economy, so are in high-exposure roles that lack social and economic safety nets. The tragedy we see unfolding before our eyes is the outcome of our social structures from the policies of long-standing institutions. Simply put, coronavirus now forces young British black people to a crossroad as emerging-intellectuals in a knowledge-is-king world. The global economy is interlocked, and most young black people in Britain are very much embedded in it. They want to be active within this knowledge economy, not just as worker bees and suppliers of labour, or other exploitable categories, but rather as creators, managers, leaders and entrepreneurs in control of the political and economic forces that shape their lives.
Arguably, today’s British black young professionals have not had their collective consciousness hit in the same way young black people growing up in the 90s would have with Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the subsequent revelation of institutional racism within the police force. The deaths of Damilola Taylor and Victoria Climbié in the early 2000s allowed light to be shone on institutional deficiencies, which then allowed for more black lives to be saved. My guess is many black young professionals today will remember those names, yet probably not the trauma. The rapid rise of memes and social media has ebbed away at any transgenerational trauma that normally afflicts black people. What will be our response to this situation?
I don’t think there’s any getting away from this one. The knowledge and systems black people generate has surpassed the older knowledge of race relations and colonization, and is moving us to newer ideas of what it means to be black in a globalized world. Black Panther, BYP, Black Twitter, Foundervine and all the other powerful expressions of blackness reimagine black intellectual traditions with today’s new technologies to deliver a new identity. These shocking statistics we see coming from the pandemic highlight the institutional challenges that remain. Perhaps, as members of a digital be-whatever-you-want-to-be era, we hold no psychological complexes about our colour and run to create our own platforms, free of any fear. I know I did - www.globalhealthjobs.com and the African Healthcare Hackathon www.ahhack.com are platforms that recruit and resource healthcare professionals to solve healthcare problems at scale.
The last pieces of the jigsaw are the big national institutions. The integration of black people in knowledge production and policies within these institutions must reinforce ideas of empowerment within the wider economy. If there isn’t diverse representation in senior leadership and decision-making, nothing will change. In the most ethnically diverse borough in the whole of the UK, within the most multicultural city, London, we find the flagship Nightingale Hospital led by white people. One final example: the documents produced to help clinical people understand how to protect themselves haven’t been created with a diverse audience in mind. And when many of the staff at the ‘hands-on’ levels of healthcare are black, it becomes a bit clearer to understand why we are where we are. This is obviously a live issue, for which further evidence and information will help inform our understanding as the situation evolves. Still, even here is where the inequalities start. Generating evidence through research takes time and money, both of which are finite. As such, what the authorities choose to focus on, and who they ask to do so, requires a political decision.
Forgive the drama of the concluding paragraph. Still, when the survival of black people is at stake, it becomes a perfectly rational response to reject complacency. Forces may try to impose limits on us, just as they have done for centuries in the creation of colonial economies, yet we have fashioned new beginnings in which we constitute the centre and not the periphery. We get out of this crisis by shining the strongest light on the truth. Get the torches out of your toolbox.
Ade Adeyemi is a Global Health expert and MD of www.GlobalHealthJobs.com