When 2020 began, there was a distinctly optimistic feeling about what was to come. It was to be a year of clarity, with many wishing for “20/20” vision to guide them through. None of us could have seen the global pandemic that was unfolding as we rang in the year. In the United States, Black communities were blindsided, and the sudden realization of the all-too-familiar patterns of racial disparities reminded us of the old saying, “When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia”—or, in this case, die from COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, the disparities in health, economic, and social outcomes have been stark for Black women and their families. Black Americans experience disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We are more likely to have underlying conditions that worsen the severity of cases and less likely to have access to timely testing and treatment services that could save our lives. Economically, women of color are facing high levels of unemployment and financial uncertainty. This, in turn, is creating negative social impacts for Black women and girls, including a higher risk of housing instability, food insecurity, and education inequality. Black women live at the intersection of racial and gender oppression and economic and health adversity.
Structural racism—which has perpetuated centuries of anti-Black discrimination in health care, education, housing, and labor—is at the root of this intersectional reality. Our nation’s systems were designed to produce the outcomes we are seeing.
We at Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) may not be able to predict the future, but we did, in fact, predict the disparities in COVID-19 in March. We can expect these disparities to continue in the way the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed in 2021.
Black women have the power to push back—we have and we must. With no way to know when the pandemic will end, and no certainty about when, or if, the federal response will meet our needs, we have to create our own path forward.
To equip Black women to protect themselves, their families, and their communities, BWHI is pleased to release Surviving & Thriving. This pandemic survival guide tells the story of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us, Black women, and empowers us to take actions that keep us healthy, safe, and resilient. The guide describes the scope of the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic; provides practical tips and resources that Black women can use to mitigate the severity of those impacts; and calls policymakers to account with lists of concrete recommendations for addressing our needs and ending the disparities we experience.
We know what it means to be Black women in this country, in this moment. We know the stakes are high and the consequences are quite literally life or death. And so, we offer this guide to amplify Black women’s voices, to assert, more powerfully than ever, that our lives matter.