The Arts, Health, and Race

Mad Madness: The Pandemic that has been with US

It’s 2020.  Black Death, Black pain, and Black anger stagnate the air. The toll of life under the unrelenting weight of whiteness has unearth the rancid and left bare the U.S. history, the rangled bodies of buried and un-buried Black people yearning to breathe free.  The metal shackles of enslavement morphed into the financial shackles of low-waged employment, unemployment, amidst economic booms performed out on privileged bodies – non-Black, careless, callous and reckless.   

It’s 2020. In the U.S. 100,000+ are dead in less than a trimester, the air quickly cleared of pollution as automotive and air travel halt.  The same air thickens with the pungent taste of racism – some the lips and tongues smacked sweet as the cellular tug of the ancestral call for rituals of dehumanizing acts onto the bodies of Black Others. Prove whiteness: affirm belonging and allegiance to segregation, Jim Crow,  the Action Block, the dislocation of millions of African peoples. Some lips smack with delight.  It’s feasting time. 

photographer Alex Love

It’s 2020. And, Coronavirus (COVID 19) eats its way through African American communities collecting breath like trinkets for souvenir. The current occupant of the house on the hill, chest puffed, laughs.  Life is Sweet. Lips smack with delight minute by minute, the delicious aching tug of racism’s ancestral calls.  The pandemic that has been with US for 400 years sears.

It’s 2020.  Fiber-optics in the ground. Satellites in the sky. Internet live stream Black Bodies fighting for a full breath of whatever air is possible.  ‘I can’t breathe’.   Yearning to breath free.  Tear gas, pepper spray, bullets, and Coronavirus (COVID 19).

It’s 2020.  The street are filled masked and unmasked.  Truth and clarity – the gift of Coronavirus (COVID 19). Everyone sees. Not everyone breaths.  Noxious, obnoxious, and obscene innocence – the lie of whiteness identity and allies.

It’s 2020. Black bodies piled high on street corners, in funeral homes, hospitals, jails, parking lots, and on lawns.

It’s 2020. Pandemic Racism meets Pandemic Coronavirus (COVID 19): Black Bodies.

It’s 2020.  Don’t stand close. Don’t even try to breathe.  Enough. 

Health and Living in the time of Coronavirus (COVID 19)

After much soldering up and preparations (three sheets of hand sanitizers in the right pocket and an additional two folded paper towels in left pocket with hand gel, masks on faces, and a set of plastic gloves in the breast pocket) my partner and I headed out grocery shopping.  We navigated the maze of people on the street – some with masks, some actively practicing social distancing, many moving through the sidewalks carefree and caviler – as we and fellow social distance-ers strategically dodge through performances of ignorance and/or arrogance.   At the grocery store (located in the basement of a prestigious building) the shoppers we encountered were for the most part more aware, doing their best at social distancing while maneuvering through narrow aisles.  

At the cash register, the mask-less late twenties/early-thirties-something African Diaspora female cashier smiled gently as she informed us that she could not pack the bag we had brought with us (Somewhere in our minds we knew this but forgotten and brought our own) because of the virus; all the time she maintained her distance from us and we from her.  We thanked her, smiled, and likely passed a joke between us as she packed our groceries in the store’s bags and carefully passed them to us.   Suddenly, apparently out nowhere an equally mask- less co-worker, a white colleague, appeared within kissing distance of her face and less than four feet from our own, laughing in animated expressiveness; yet with no apparent reason for her presences.  Our cashier looked quizzically.  A bit jarred by the encounter, my partner and I, our masks still in place, thanked the cashier and hurried out.  On our arrival home we followed the recommendation on bringing groceries into the home, sanitizing everything including ourselves.  

In this time of the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic it is more crucial than ever that African Americans and African Diaspora people in western spaces design and codify strategies for health and wellbeing and staying live.  With lifelines above ground measured in six-feet distance, I have mapped six-feet into my acts of love and respect.  It is with six-feet that I show love to friends and family members who have been a part of my life for more years than I can remember; and, it is with six-feet that I respect the lives of strangers whom I pass on the road while out on errands or my regular run.  On paper it seems so simple, just stay six-feet away at all times; but in practice, this mandate is much more complicated.  In recent weeks I have gained a profound understanding of the privilege of six-feet; it is a privilege many cannot access in any consistent and relevant way to positively impact health, well-being, and life.  For those who are privileged enough to be able to regularly and consistently engage in rituals of six-feet distancing, we have learned that this six-feet ritual requires deliberate mindfulness and the ability to predict with relative accuracy the movement of others and respond accordingly.  In the field of traffic safety, the ability to predict the movement of others, anticipate, and respond to risk in the environment  is referred to as ‘hazard perception’ (see Frank Mckenna 2014), Hazard perception is beyond the concept of situational awareness – awareness of ones surroundings (a term used in the related field of human factor). Hazard perception is the ability to predict potential hazards.   So important is this ability that in some western countries, such as the United Kingdom, one must pass a hazard perceptions test in order to qualify for a drivers license.  

My Spring 2020 errands through the urban center where I reside and through the aisles of the grocery stores, test my ability to perceive and respond to potentially hazardous encounters – these are grueling tests that literally impact life and death.  As coronavirus (COVID 19) takes away whatever illusions one might entertain of dignified death, missteps are not evident immediately but instead carry additional anxiety an up to fourteen days of wait – a crash in which the full impact unfold in a fourteen-day slow motion montage.   

My journeys out of the apartment are well planned – an internal map of the streets likely to be less traveled, at times  the grocery store will has less customers.  This strategizing takes a great deal of psychic and emotional work – like most level-headed persons negotiating this unprecedented time, caution is essential.  Still, using a technical term from human factors and traffic safety, crashes happen.  A crash is an unplanned encounter with a moving object that results in impact.  

The scenario that begins this essay is an example of a crash.  My partner and I, and the African Diaspora cashier, understood that a particular way of being-in-the-world at this moment in time is necessary for health and well being, and survival.  Metaphorically you could say we were, in that moment, in the same car. We chose to proactively engaged in following the guidelines set forth by the experts on how to be safe in a coronavirus (COVID 19) world, off how to be safe on the road.  But, the cashier’s white colleague had other concerns/understandings of health and well-being in the age of coronavirus (COVID 19); or she may have had an alternate understandings of what constitute health and well-being.  In my metaphor, this colleague could be said to be in another, more reckless, car.  Pointless to speculate as to why someone would put themselves (and others) in harms in the age of coronavirus (COVID 19), though I am reminded that (especially of working-class and poor whites) the exercise of whiteness regularly involves much of what I term nonsensical behavior in high risk situations. 

Driving metaphors have been useful to me in thinking about and thinking through my mobility in the world coronavirus (COVID 19).  I view encounters such as the one described at the beginning of this piece as slow crashes.  It will take fourteen days before we completely apprehend the severity of the encounter beyond the immediate (in-the-moment) psychological and emotional disturbance. Most drivers on the road are road allies, accepting and following the rules of the road so that each with high degree of regularity travel to and from their destination without harms.  Yet not all drivers are road allies and so too not all persons moving about the sidewalks, grocery stores, and running paths in my neighborhood are allies. Hazard perception is an essential skill for all in these times, especially for African Americans and African Diaspora in western spaces.  

Dr. Melissa Barber – (of Melissa’s Thanks) organizes Coronavirus (COVID 19) response in her community

One of the biggest ideas that came from the Cuban Revolution was that everyone, as a human right, should have access to healthcare and should have access to education. So Cuba has prided itself in making sure that these are very much pillars of its revolution, and that their people would always have access to that.

Dr. Melissa Barber, author of Melissa’s Thanks, continues her GREAT work! Read more here.

“In the South Bronx, Dr. Melissa Barber is putting into practice lessons she learned more than a decade ago from her training as a medical student in Cuba at the Latin American School of Medicine, or ELAM as it’s known by its Spanish initials. For Barber, healthcare doesn’t start with an ambulance ride to the hospital but with community organizing and a deep familiarity with the needs of one’s neighbors. Barber is also the coordinator for the U.S.-Cuba scholarship program that provides free medical school training in Cuba for aspiring doctors who commit to return and serve in their communities.”

April 2, 2020 – Six Feet

April 2, 2020

It is the beginning of our future, but not the end of our present or past.  We are participating in the making of a new humanity; even as the incompleteness of the humanity some of us can claim to belong is fatally unfinished and flawed.  Six feet to confidently feel the sun, engage face to face; six feet to bury our beloved. Six feet of deference between the living and the dead;  life or death in six feet, a mask, and sanitizers. 

April 1, 2020

This is the age of Coronavirus/COVID 19. The privilege of breathing is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. The air is cleaners because a force so small it is imperceptible to the human eye has literally put the world on pause, caught between breaths, waiting to exhale.

At this moment I find all language inadequate.  Its inadequacy is both irreverent and irrelevant, for use, however crude and imperfect, must be made of it.  At least this is where I have now landed.  

For weeks (more precisely months) I have fumbled and foiled in my attempts to convert thoughts, feelings, a way of being in this new world of ours into language.  Failure after failure, bumps after bumps, I have been wholly discouraged, disappointed, disheartened, and dispirited by language’s inability and impotency. I have been terrorized with brutal imaginings, fear that ultimately I could write nothing – at least nothing worthy of that which I seek to describe, reflect on, analyze, and deconstruct in order to find a way forward.  NO!!! ways forward/backwards/sideways/upside-down ways to transform this present moment through language (written, oral, and embodied) that speaks into healing, health, resistants, joy!!   I seek language that disentangles from rhetoric of disease, denial, destruction and breaths life into this and the next moment.   And yet…

Today I start here:  

Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe”echoes through corridors and waiting rooms of hospitals, care centers and homes around the world:  And in a multitude of languages, across times zones, and age-range, the reverberation of  ‘I can’t breathe’ hangs in the air,  haunting the contemporary moment.  This is the age of Coronavirus/COVID 19.  The privilege of breathing is on the forefront of everyone’s mind.  The air is cleaners because a force so small it is imperceptible to the human eye has literally put the world on pause, caught between breaths,  waiting to exhale.  And Garner’s cosmic reckoning is upon us, bring the world’s economy to its knees as everyone fears that next inhalation will be an ill-fated journey to that final gasp “I can’t breathe.”   The weight of the virus is on our necks, we are in the preverbal chokehold, and even atheists are praying that the last time they saw their loved ones will not be the last time of having seen their loved ones;  and if loss must be had, if Garner must die as he did, let it be someone else’s breath that is aborted, let someone else be sacrificed to the ritual fight that ends in a whole bodied “I can’t breathe”. 

Who will we be after millions across the globe (including our own near and far) have succumbed,  when we are all madmen from grief, catastrophic loss,  and survival guilt?  How will we protect innocence (our own and others) when we have already perverted innocence and turned it on itself?  What type of global community will we build from this fear of breathing and from the enormous threat of unchecked hatred and biases embodied in the micro and macro?  What dances will be create to immunize us against external harm and from internal afflictions?  

Dancing life

The story of the (still unfolding) life of an African-American woman living in the predominantly white worlds of ballet, modern dance, and Broadway, while facing challenges, heartbreaks, and triumphs as she attempts to shatter the stereotypically classical mold and celebrate her evolution into an unapologetic body, (Francesca Harper).



Thoughts of the Week


Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine – Thursday, November 21, 20194:00 pm – 6:00 pm

MOMENTUM: A Race Forward Podcast

“In this episode of Momentum, Hiba and Chevon take on ‘cancel culture’ in the comedy world, discussing “Joker” director Todd Phillips recent comments about not being able to make comedy films because of “woke culture”, and Saturday Night Live’s recent hiring and firing of Shane Gillis. 

Race Forward’s Research Associate Yirssi, joins the conversation to talk about her work with “Shattered Families” around the intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system, and gives us insight into the current state of the work and what she saw on her recent trip to Arizona and Mexico. “

LBD Peace Institute

Enacted in 2000, the annual Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month (SHVAM) was created in an effort to educate the public and policymakers about the impact of murder on families and communities and uplift the peace-building efforts of survivors. Join us as we recognize and honor the survivorship of those in our community

William Augustus Hinton

60 years after his death, groundbreaking bacteriologist Hinton honored at HMS


“Dr. Hinton understood what it meant to be black in America,” said Joan Reede, HMS dean for diversity and community partnership.

Hinton also understood that social and economic factors play a role in health and that disease often unduly afflicts the underprivileged, she said. 

Reede noted that not only did Hinton refuse scholarships designated for black students, preferring to compete and succeed academically on an equal footing with Harvard’s white students, but he also declined the 1938 NAACP Springarn Medal for achievement by an African American, concerned that his research might not be evaluated fairly if other scientists realized he was black.

Free Telehealth Service For Marginalized Communities

NanaEfua B. Afoh-Manin (BAM) MD, MPH, NanaEfua B. Afoh-Manin (BAM) MD, MPH, and Briana DeCuir, MD, (founders) are launching a free telehealth app and online portal called myCOVIDMD that safely connects individuals to resources in real-time, by real people. 

I have stated elsewhere that this is the time for an Underground Railroad of Health Care Professional working to save lives in African American throughout the United States and African Diaspora communities throughout the western world.  These three female ER Doctors apparently had a similar idea.   They have started the process of a movement I believe is needed globally.   I will tentatively call it The Underground Railroad of Health Professions for Us (URHPU).  

Read more and access myCOVIDMD click HERE.

Poems for This Time

No Mourning for the Poor

By: Melissa Barber (April 13, 2020)

As the rain falls,Poverty thickens& certain communities are forgotten
& countless bodies are dying.
Self-contained,Fibrotic lungs short of breath& Fever ridden exacerbated muscles aching, crying out for testing that will never comecrying out for portable hospitals that will never be constructed.
One or ten.Grieving hearts are silenced by unmourned, cremated and unburied loved ones.
The plot thickens. 
Medical personnel cross contaminate.

As the rain falls,It’s exposing the pre-existing racismthe pre-existing neglectthe pre-existing corruptionand the consequence.
Countless covid-infested bodies are dying.

The World As We Know it Has Stopped! 

By: Halifu Osumare (March 22, 2020)

The world as we know it has stopped! We are told to social distance, but that we are all in it together

We’re supposed to stand six feet apart, while supporting each other 

The contradictions are a part of the empty streets and closed restaurants

            Online dance classes, instead of sweating together in the studio

            Spiritual webinars instead of Sunday church

We were looking at our phones 

now we’re looking at each other and asking why?

We are quarantined, isolated in these uncertain times

            “But how do we quarantine a tear?”*

We are helping each other to get through this with phone calls, not texts

            With a real smile as we pass each other in the streets,

 But still a smile emoji on an encouraging Facebook post 

            or a reassuring zoom business conference

Is the world ending?

maybe, as we know it 

Giving us a new start?

Bishop T.D. Jakes says,

The Coronavirus is waking us up

about Tribalism, Politics, Race, and even Age

The virus could bring about new Unity

            A resurgence to Re-Examine our Values

            A focus on the Continuity of Love, not Extremism

The world as we know it has stopped!

Now we have a chance to take a deep breath in and out!

and listen to the wisdom of the Ancestors in the Wind that still blows

“How do we quarantine a tear?”