As the Black Voice News marks its 48th year it embraces the challenges of covering a triple pandemic
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest . . .”
― W. E. B. DuBois
S.E. Williams | Contributor
Message from the editor: The opening quote from W.E.B. DuBois was selected because he, along with the Black press, were the clarion voices of the African American community during the 1918 pandemic. Today, the Black Voice News, like other Black media outlets nationally, is committed to living up to their standard.
For 48 years Black Voice News has proudly told the stories of the Black community, the inland region, the state of California and at times, the nation.
Through the years the publication has strived all the while, to be a voice for the voiceless, a catalyst for change, while working to enhance our ability to also deliver the news on platforms contemporary with rapidly changing technology.
We endeavor to be a forerunner in exploring and implementing breakthrough media strategies to improve the quality of our publications as we maximize our efforts to deliver news to our customers and community with excellence.
In the footsteps of great Black journalists who revealed injustice, celebrated accomplishments and amplified the voices of Black Americans during the most significant moments and movements for change in Black history—the Black Voice News has proudly and humbly sought to uphold that tradition for nearly five decades.
Like Black media outlets before us and others today, the practice—not by choice but by necessity—of often operating on a shoe-string budget with a small team of committed individuals supported by a core of devoted readers, has sustained and encouraged us through the years.
For nearly five decades we have covered stories of celebration like the election of America’s first Black president—to stories of heartbreak like the devastating race-related murders at Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina.
We marked and measured the slow and determined efforts to close the educational achievement gap of inland area Black students and tallied the bodies of young Black women and men lost at the hands of local sheriffs and police—including Tyeisha Miller, Nathaniel Pickett, Matthew Tucker and far too many others.
We have challenged municipal leadership over their lack of diversity and called-out agencies and municipalities for the misuse of ratepayer and/or taxpayer dollars.
Over the years, we have chronicled the limited economic progress of African-Americans before we reported on the devastating loss of Black wealth in the wake of the Great Recession.
We have mourned the loss of many leaders at the national and state levels and especially felt the stinging loss of our longtime local warriors like NAACP leader and community icon Waudieur “Woodie” Rucker Hughes, Community Activist Frances Grice, Civil Rights Activist Bonnie Sheree Johnson and so many other sheroes and heroes of the Inland Empire’s African-American community over the decades including the recent transition of the West Valley Ratepayers Association President and WAG member Don Griggs.
Just as we grieved collectively we’ve celebrated in reporting on the future leaders as they’ve accepted high school and college diplomas and came of age filled with optimism and promise; and most recently, reported on young leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement who took the baton of activism, carrying it bravely forward in their own way and yet, in the tradition of those who came before.
The Black Voice News is privileged to have told these stories, to be a part of this vibrant and diverse region, not for sensationalism and sales, but to create a record of Black life in the inland region as its spanned nearly five decades and reached across two centuries, always with the goal of informing with integrity and amplifying calls for change as warranted.
Today, The Black Voice News is taking up the charge in alignment with other Black media and embraced the solemn responsibility of helping to create a historical record through reporting on the triple pandemic devastating the Black community today.
They include the deadly coronavirus that has laid bare the second pandemic, the twin evils of police brutality and disregard for Black life, and thirdly, issues of equity that have plagued African-Americans for generations.
All three of these issues have collided and given rise to a determined movement for change.
Issues of Equity Impacting the African American Community
It is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans without examining the equity related issues that left the community vulnerable to such breathtaking devastation.
Systemic and institutional racism fostered and curated the circumstances which made the community ripe for the grievous outcomes the coronavirus continues to have on Black Americans.
By any measure due to the underlying health vulnerabilities in the Black community, had the virus been tailor-made to damage this population it could not have been more impacting in its effect.
The upper layer of factors which rendered the population so vulnerable of course, are the high rates of comorbidity beginning with obesity and ending with stress.
African Americans are 1.3 times more likely to be obese than other ethnic groups and African American women have the highest rates of obesity. In 2018, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Black women were 50 percent more likely to be obese than their White counterparts.
If obesity stood alone as a comorbidity it would be alarming in and of itself, however obesity is also the precursor to other more debilitating health issues which have left the Black community at exceedingly high risk for the most severe forms of COVID-19.
Overweight people are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, diabetes, and LDL cholesterol, all of which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Blacks are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure (for Black women it is 60 percent) yet are least likely than other groups to have it under control. In addition, Blacks are 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than other groups.
Another reason Blacks are so vulnerable to COVID-19 is the high rate of AIDS in their community. Although African Americans represent only about 13 percent of the nation’s population, they accounted for 44 percent of HIV infection cases according to the most recent HHS data.
Another issue making this community highly vulnerable to COVID-19 is diabetes. Blacks are 60 percent more likely than other groups to suffer from this condition also leaving them 3.5 times more likely to suffer from end stage renal (kidney) disease and 2.3 times more likely to experience lower limb amputations.
Regarding cancers whether of the colon, stomach or prostate, African Americans lead all other groups in the diagnoses of these conditions; and regarding breast cancer, although Black women get breast cancer at roughly the same rate as Whites and other groups, they are 40 percent more likely to die from it.
Finally, African American adults are 2.6 times more likely to have asthma while Black children are 4 four times as likely to suffer from the chronic condition.
These are a few of the key comorbidities which lead to the Black community being ravaged by this virus.
The question of course, is why?
One reason for consideration is the high obesity rates that result in these comorbidities are rooted in something more than genetics, or poor eating habits or a lack of exercise as some might like to suggest.
They are undergirded by long standing issues of racism that have perpetuated disparities in lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare, education, employment, a lack of access in many communities to fresh fruits and vegetables and often, inadequate housing. And in regard to housing, environmental impacts in low income communities also contribute to negative health conditions like asthma for example which enhanced COVID-19 vulnerabilities.
These issues are not only the result of systemic and institutional racism, they often rest on legislative initiatives intentionally designed (though often opaque) making it difficult to peel back the layers in order to understand the complexities regarding why the Black community is being harmed by a particular policy. Though often, the probable impacts of the policies on Black communities are obvious.
Perhaps the most vivid example of this, leads us to the next and perhaps one of the most sinister elements of the triple pandemic—issues related to police use of force and criminal justice.
Police Use of Force and Criminal Justice
When examining how legislation is used to uphold racist agendas the examples are historic whether you consider federal subsidies to assist with homeownership, redlining in housing, insurance, etc. money bail, traffic tickets turning into arrest warrants, or federal grants to outfit local police with military weapons of war, etc. These policies were designed and implemented with intention.
Yet, almost nothing has devastated Black families and communities more in recent decades than what happened legislatively in 1994. That year, elected officials passed and implemented legislation resulting in a double negative whammy. At the federal level there was the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill (The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act); and at the state level, California’s Three Strikes Bill (Three Strikes Sentencing Law) was passed. Twenty-eight years later in March 2020 there were 2.3 million Americans in jails and prisons. Blacks were 33 percent of the nation’s prison population.
In a nation like America that has more laws and regulations than any country in the world coupled with over policing and a criminal justice system rooted in racism, it is not surprising Black (and Brown) citizens are imprisoned at higher rates and so often fall victim to police use of excessive force.
According to the NAACP, between 2017 and 2019, 667 African Americans were shot to death by police. In addition, police violence is the 6th leading cause of death for men ages 25 to 29.
In 2019, 54 percent of those who died because of police abuse were people of color compared to 50 percent in 2014—the nation is going backward in this regard.
This reality bubbling just below the surface, may help explain why the brutal death of George Floyd tore open a scar that will not heal until things change in America.
Beyond this, there is also a more direct link to the police use of force which makes this issue more than just the third element of this triple pandemic which further calls for the need for equity in policing.
It is the more subtle impact the death of Black men and women at the hands of police, has on grieving families and Black communities which ties it directly to health equity and links it to the comorbidities that leave Blacks more vulnerable to COVID-19.
According to data assessed by the NAACP, “Police killings of unarmed Black Americans are responsible for more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year among Black Americans,” the civil rights groups explained, “This mental health burden, (i.e. stress that can often be acute), is comparable to that associated with diabetes, a disease that strikes one in five Black Americans.”
The Devastating Impact of the Coronavirus on African-Americans
Issues of Equity and Police Use of Force helped lay the groundwork for the third and most overtly obvious pandemic among the three—COVID-19, which helped lay bare the magnitude of the other two pandemics to Americans and the world.
Although many in America were surprised by the COVID-19 related deaths in the African American community—they should not be when you consider issues of equity and the impact of police use of force. COVID-19 could be substituted out for any of the myriad of health-related issues disproportionately devastating Black communities whether its asthma, Aids, prostate cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and the list of other illness that killed Black people disproportionately every day in America well before the world knew the term COVID-19.
According to AOM Research Lab between April 13 and July 7, one in every 1,450 Black Americans has died due to the virus (or 69.7 deaths per 100,000) and Blacks are dying of COVID-19 at a rate that is 3.8 times higher than Whites. As of July 7, considering Blacks are about 13 percent of the nation’s population, they represent 23.6 percent of the nation’s coronavirus deaths.
As the Black Voice News enters its 49th year our goal is to continue shining a light on these important issues.
Although many in the media focus on the coronavirus as the key narrative which laid bare the issues of equity and police use of force; Blacks who have lived these experiences since they arrived in America in 1619, the issues of equity and police brutality are not casual revelations. It is their lived experience and these experiences seeded the ground for the high rate of COVID-19 deaths in Black communities.
In the coming weeks, months and possibly years, as the Black Voice News continues to report on stories of relevance to the inland region it will further explore the triple pandemic detailed here, not in lamentation—though we will acknowledge those lost—but also in exploration, as the publication’s team through its reporting, and at times coupled with the use of data and geospatial analysis and presentation, commits to adding to conversations focused on rooting out systemic and institutional barriers to change; and in support of actions by nonprofits, municipalities, state legislators, business partners and others, working to build a better tomorrow.
The Black Voice News team is committed to this endeavor.
S. E. Williams is the Executive Editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News