America’s legacy of white supremacy has marginalized Black communities with redlining, segregation, poverty, and lack of access. Combating the history of abuse and mistrust is key to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jacqueline L.: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. The extent of the spread of coronavirus has yet to be fully realized in the United States, with projections in the coming weeks indicating that millions will be infected with the virus and hundreds of thousands may die. Already struggling in a society in which centuries of racism have created stark disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, black Americans are now experiencing higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19 then other groups of people.
What are the systematic reasons for this phenomenon and what are the sociological responses among black people to that long history of racism in America that’s contributed to this new and tragic reality? Well, here to delve into these issues and to reveal a plan to confront them is Dr. Ron Daniels. Dr. Daniels is the president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and convener of the National African-American Reparations Commission. He is a distinguished lecturer emeritus at York College City University of New York, and he hosts a weekly radio show called Vantage Point on WBAI 99.5 FM on the Pacifica network in New York City. Dr. Daniels, thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Jacqueline, it’s a privilege to be with you and to see you’re doing healthy and well. I keep saying to everybody, keep the faith, because people may have different spiritual orientations, and be safe, because this is no joke.
Jacqueline L.: Absolutely, and I’m so glad we’re having this conversation today, because many of us on the left have been talking about how this virus would disproportionately affect working class people, talking about the class aspect of it, and poor people in this country, but we’ve also talked about it would disproportionately affect mostly black people and other marginalized groups of people, immigrants, Native-Americans. So now that corporate news outlets have confirmed what we’ve suspected, we’re also seeing a different trend among black people emerging that’s also contributing to the spread of this virus among us, that’s rooted in some dangerous misinformation being spread. So can you give us some insight into what this rumor is that is going around about black people and COVID-19 that’s impeding the efforts to protect us from the virus?
Dr. Ron Daniels: Well, there’s several factors. One of them is really a ridiculous rumor that somehow black people can’t get this because of our pigmentation, because we have a melanin exception. That’s just not the case. This is an equal opportunity destroyer, and it is destroying literally hundreds of thousands of people thus far. But there’s also the sense that this virus is what they… I was on a podcast in which someone sent a message saying, “This is not a coronavirus, it’s a control us virus.” So there’s this kind of fear of the government, which is legitimate, because of things that have happened over the years.
But my contention is, look, people are not going to… I understand the power elite, the power structure. We struggle against it all the time. They are not going to suffer trillions of dollars to take black people out. Negro, please. That ain’t happening. I mean, just common sense would indicate that that’s not the case. And so we have both the disinformation, we also have the rumors that are going around. Also, in my own way, I’m not a psychologist or a trained psychiatrist, but I also think that black life doesn’t matter. So I think some of my people just feel, like the young brothers and sisters in the hood, when you interview them, it’s like tomorrow you may not be here, the day after. It’s not promised.
And so I think some people just take the attitude, “My life is worthless. I’m treated in a manner as if I’m worthless. So, eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I will die anyway.” Well, we don’t want you to die. We don’t. And if you think you might die, we want you not to be around here taking out your mother or your father, your grandmother, your aunties and so forth and so on. And there’s no way of doing that except you being disciplined, taking on the warnings that have to be heeded. You know, our old folks used to say, and I guess I’d be one of them now, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Be safe. And so we really want to get that message out to our people, because we want to live to fight another day. We’ve been waging this historical battle for years and years and years. We want to live to fight another day.
Jacqueline L.: You know, Dr. Daniels, I’m so glad you brought up the point about the falsehood of the melanin exception, because when I heard about it, I didn’t believe that people actually were sharing that information. Then I finally saw some video that someone produced or shared on social media, and I was so struck by how utterly ridiculous it was. But then, just today, I saw another video from someone who claims to be a part of the medical profession. It’s a young black woman with a hairnet on and what looks like medical scrubs, but the tell-tale signs of the veracity of her being a member of the medical profession is that she has ear buds in her ears and her hair is cascading out from underneath the net.
But even still with something as blatantly obviously fake as that, the easy to pinpoint that there’s something not right with this person claiming they’re a member of the medical profession, people are still sharing this information from this person claiming that COVID itself a lie. It’s a falsehood. It’s used to control people, to usher in the new world order. You brought up a point of black people mistrusting the government specifically. Now that’s not based in some internet or social media rumor, especially when we’re talking about the history of black people and disease and the medical profession. So help people understand why that mistrust is actually valid, even though it’s being misplaced in this instance.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Right. I mean, we have a long history in our memory bank of things like the experiments on the Tuskegee airmen. Sorry, not the airmen, the experiments that took place at Tuskegee. There was the memory of Native-Americans who were deliberately infected with smallpox… or it may have been chickenpox, I think it was smallpox…
Jacqueline L.: Smallpox, yes.
Dr. Ron Daniels: … in order to test them. And of course, the sterilization of black women that took place. And, right now, and you may have seen this, there was a French physician who openly said… and we’re going to talk about this on my show next week… “In order to find a vaccine or treatment, let us test Africans in the Francophone countries.” Actually said that openly. So yes, there is a history that’s there, but the way we counter that is by having credible messengers. In other words, it’s my job, your job, the job of others that we know, to look at people who we know and we respect to analyze and say what’s really happening.
Because it could be true, but on the other hand, your eyes should not deceive you. We see black people dying out here. We see white people dying. We see rich people dying. This is not something that’s being confined… Some people say it’s just to eliminate the poor. This was on my show today. I heard somebody saying, number one, “This so-called virus,” and then somebody else saying [inaudible 00:08:50] to wipe out four people. But again, whomever is not going to liquidate trillions of dollars just to confine it to poor people. But even beyond that, the Prime Minister of Britain has just been admitted to the emergency ward because his symptoms are increasing. In other words, this is no respecter of color, creed, class, any of that stuff, and that’s why we have to take it seriously. And then we can also unpack where it came from, because a lot of people want to say, where did it came from and what…
All of that’s good. We need to look at that. The other thing I have to say too is we really don’t need to be scapegoating Asians and Chinese. The presidential malfeasance that’s taking place is utterly ridiculous. I mean, for this man to get up there and say it was a Chinese virus and then Secretary Pompeo calling it the Kong-Fu virus. I mean, just that kind of latent ugly kind of thing. So, we don’t need to get caught up in that. I actually saw something come out of Africa where there was this kind of, “Well, we don’t need the Chinese to come in,” and all this kind of stuff. Well, we’ve been victimized by that. I can remember when the Haitians were accused of being they’re the ones who have HIV and all this and everybody was all…
We can look at evidence, we can look at medical facts, and we can [inaudible 00:10:20] it in that way. Because we are all in this together as a human family. But inside of that, there are some people who are more oppressed than others, and we bind together and we protect each other as a community and as a family.
Jacqueline L.: Yeah, absolutely, Dr. Daniels, I mean, even though this virus, as with any virus or disease, they are no respecter of persons or class or race or even geographical boundaries, as we are seeing the escalating horror of the virus taking its toll in this country, disproving the myth of American exceptionalism, that somehow we’re not going to experience the same misery that other countries have. But this virus absolutely has exposed the existing class issues, the existing racial issues, and all of these other structural societal issues that have been ignored for decades, if not centuries, in this country.
So now, here we are, Dr. Daniels, where African-Americans in this country are experiencing significantly higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19 than other groups of people. But your organization has announced an effort to combat this whole toxic combination of factors. Would you tell us about what this effort is?
Dr. Ron Daniels: Before I do that, let me just quickly speak to… because I may not have answered your previous question in this regard.
Jacqueline L.: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Because when you talk about that long history, we have to look at, obviously, enslavement and the wealth gap. That is directly attributable to the wealth gap. We also got to look at things like redlining, and the systematic segregating of people in communities where they could not escape those communities, and all of the things that contributed to the wealth gap, which is enormous. I mean the FHA, the GI Bill, the home [inaudible 00:12:20], all of these things that we can document that separated blacks from whites in this society.
But also it is currently the question of disinvestment, the conscious disinvestment in black communities, this de-industrialization that has taken place, leaving these communities vulnerable. And it is absolutely structural racism within the medical profession, within the whole medical system, which treats black people differently. So you have these health disparities and you have lack of access all across this country, the lack of access to quality medical care, which really makes it even more criminal that you have a president that’s talking about not permitting people to expand Medicaid or to in fact enroll in Obamacare. I mean, that kind of viciousness that’s out there.
So I just wanted to speak to that, but in terms of what the Institute of the Black World 21st century is doing, we’re honored to have, among our configuration of collaborative structures, something called the Black Family Summit. It has an emergency management task force that really has a direct relationship with FEMA, by the way, as well, or at least it under the previous administration and we still maintain those ties. This structure has been operating for years on a voluntary basis to deal with human catastrophes and manmade catastrophes.
So when you look at Flint, that’s human error. That’s human negligence. Then you have these hurricanes that have taken place and all that. So they’ve been working on that. And so there are two things that have emerged. One, the credible messengers. When we saw what was happening, we said, “Let us spring into action to find a way to get culturally appropriate messaging to our people, to let our people know this is real.” And the best way we felt to do that was to find people from the medical profession. Thankfully, we have the National Medical Association, the black doctors, we have the National Nurses Association, we have the Association Of Black Psychiatrists and Social workers, Administrative and Black Child Welfare, Association Of International Black Professional [inaudible 00:14:29].
We have folks who are with us who are credible, who’ve been out there doing this work for years. So we want them to get their voices out there with accurate medical information and accurate facts, so they can stand before the camera and say to folks, “Look, this is what’s happening. This is a myth. That’s not a myth. This is how you can treat yourself,” and so forth and so on. So we’re embarking on that. And a major partner in that process is NNPA, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, under the leadership of Dr. Benjamin F. Chambers, and Mark Thompson, who many people know for many, many years, now with the podcast, Make It Plain. Keep them engaged.
We’re trying to get it out to outlets like Real News Network, black talk radio shows, also so-called mainstream media and so forth, pushing to get people on shows on MSNBC, for example, like Joy Reid and folks like that, so that we really, really, in a very concerted way, get these messages out there. The other thing that we’re moving to do also is begin to figure out how we can also provide some level of comfort to people who are traumatized in these communities. We’re working on some things that we’ll talk about in a bit where we think it’s going to be very, very helpful.
Because it is so heartbreaking to see people on the front lines, and these are black folk. You’re talking about people dying. If you look in New York, the public hospital system is largely black and brown people. The people that you see on the air are black folk, in the front lines. And they’re sitting there saying, “I’m isolating myself.” I saw a doctor this morning. He was a CNN Hero. You know, that category they have.
Jacqueline L.: Sure.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Great work in terms of antivirus work. He is in an RNB or whatever that thing is called, RB, whatever. I get the initials all mixed up. He has isolated himself now for about six weeks. He anticipates doing that for another four to six weeks away from his family, because he says, “This is a killer. I see it every day and I’m not taking that home to my family.” You hear stories of people writing notes, I mean farewell notes, to their loved ones saying, “I may not make it but I want you to know I love you,” and those kinds of things. But it’s not just the nurses and doctors. What about the people who scrub those floors? What about the people who are bringing in the food? What about the people who are the ambulance drivers and all of these people on the front lines?
They have to see this level of death in front of them like a war zone. They’re dying. Some of them are dying, but those who are not are also traumatized. So we have got to figure a way, and we are working on a way, that our healers, our healing organizations, can help to be in a posture to help those who are on the front lines, who are doing healing, to themselves at least be healed from this issue of trauma.
Jacqueline L.: Dr. Daniels, I think that’s an incredibly important aspect of this effort, because it goes back to something you said at the beginning of the interview, the nihilistic attitude among some of our people, especially in poor urban neighborhoods, what we like to call the hood. Aside from the misinformation that they’re receiving about the non-existence of this virus or how it is a government plot to eradicate black people and poor people, and I think those were excellent points that you brought up that this government is not going to spend that much money to get rid of us, but there is also this aspect of how do you convey a lifesaving message of information and self-preservation to people who have been conditioned to believe that their life does not mean anything? How are you proposing to do that with this effort?
Dr. Ron Daniels: Well, I think it goes back again to credible messengers and people who hopefully are respected. We have to find them. For example, we are consciously reaching out to people in the hip hop activist community. I mean, my voice would not necessarily be respected in that regard, but there are hip hop artists who are activists who are very, very well-respected. When they craft a message and they say it, it may be heard about in certain constituencies. And then we have folks like… I think of Danny Glover, for example. Danny Glover is cross-generationally widely respected, widely revered and respected, because he’s given so much. It’s amazing the degree to which generations beneath ours know Danny Glover. There are people like that, that when they speak up and when they talk about it… There are elected officials who can do that in this city.
One of the persons who came down with the virus is a dear friend of ours. He’s a revolutionary in office. His name is Assemblyman Charles Barron. We were at a rally with him. My wife and I, we had to self-quarantine for a while because we had a rally and gave him an embrace and a hug, like we do. Found out a week later, he had the virus. So we had to take quarantine, take appropriate steps and forth. And he got very… because for whatever reason, this thing goes in different ways. He had pneumonia that went down with it too, and he got very, very… And this is a very big risk. You know, he’s in his sixties, but he’s still a vigorous person. And when I talked to him the other day… and we’re going to have him on my show… he’s one of the persons who’s willing to say, “Look, folks, this is what happened to me.”
He’s well-respected, because he’s somebody who fights for the people all the time. He’s taken them on. So they know if Charles Barron says it, you can take it to the bank, so to speak, no pun intended. The mayor of Newark, New Jersey, I had him on my show this morning and he talked about what he’s doing in this city and so forth and so on. Also, widely respected. So when someone like that speaks, then people will listen. The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. And there are others who fit in that category too, but I’m talking about some of the people that we know who really are on the cutting edge of fighting for black folks and for human beings, who if they speak, somebody says, “Uh-oh, I’d better pay attention because so-and-so said I’d better watch it.”
So, we’re hoping that people listen. And I do think we’re making some headway, as I go around the City of New York, cautiously, and I be like taking all the precautions. My wife was teasing me all the time. She say, “You wiping everything.” I wipe, wipe. Hey, I am not trying to leave here, right?
Jacqueline L.: I’m glad to hear that, because we do not want you to leave here just yet. You’ve got much more work to do. [crosstalk 00:21:40]-
Dr. Ron Daniels: But we see [crosstalk 00:21:41] social distancing, we see people doing… And by the way, another force is our churches, by the way, to our faith organizations. They’re beginning to spread them. And now some people were doing some silly stuff and congregating under the belief that I guess they figured God will protect them. Well, God gave us a brain.
Jacqueline L.: That is how he protects us.
Dr. Ron Daniels: God gave us the opportunity to think. And so God is not about to keep you immune. You don’t have a spiritual exception either, in the sense that if you act in a dumb way, then you’ve taken out of you. So I think our faith organizations can play an incredibly important world role, and they are, in terms of coming to the forefront. So we just have to keep finding those messengers to keep pushing the message forward. But the other thing too that we have to give people is hope.
Reverend Jesse Jackson says, “Keep hope alive.” That’s a real thing, because what this thing is exposing is Katrina on steroids. We thought the ugly underbelly of America was exposed by Katrina, and it’s not just black people. I hope some of these people in these red states understand a little bit about what socialism just might mean. You know what I mean? They don’t like government. They don’t want government. Now, government is needed.
Jacqueline L.: Yes. Yes. They may not like government, but everyone wants healthcare, don’t they?
Dr. Ron Daniels: [crosstalk 00:23:02]. It’s a public space. And I look at those lines, my eyes popped. You’re talking about food pantries. The lines are not around the corner, they are miles long. And the people on those food lines, they’re not just the poorest of the poor, though there are homeless people there as well and people who are among… But there are people from all classes, who one day had a job, but now they don’t have a job. People who were in the gig economy, who were just trying to be out there, we’d say back in the day, hustle. You know what I mean?
Jacqueline L.: Right.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Just trying to make it, and doing it reasonably well. Now all of a sudden, they’re naked out here. And so I think those voices will be a part of those coming forward who are going to be pushing for major, major change in this society. The battle will be on, because the avaricious and the greedy will still be there. Though I must say, you also see examples of people who’ve closed their restaurants, holding onto the workers, people who close restaurants who are still cooking food and taking it to the first responders, or people that sending meals to people in the community who have no… So that’s the kind of spirit we need. But we must also turn those individual impulses for families into public policy.
That’s what Martin Luther King talked about. He said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar.” He wasn’t downplaying that. He says we come to understand that the system that produces beggars needs restructuring, so therefore we need to be pushing for the restructuring that our individual compassion, our individual acts of caring, are actually reflected in a government, are reflected in public policy. And so we’ve got to keep hope alive, and pushing for those kinds of changes as we move into the future.
Jacqueline L.: I’m so glad that you just mentioned and really elaborated on the need for hope, because we’re also talking about a community of people who are already isolated from the rest of society through the systemic forces that you mentioned, redlining, segregation, a lack of access to basic fundamental things like transportation and decent jobs and decent education-
Dr. Ron Daniels: And this, by the way, and this.
Jacqueline L.: … and now this is serving to further isolate people. So do you see this initiative also addressing to mitigate the isolation that the people in these communities are experiencing, and will continue to experience, especially in the need to social distance and isolate in order to stop the spread of the virus?
Dr. Ron Daniels: I was referring to the fact is that we now see this digital divide. We have the privilege, and I’m just learning it. I must admit, I’m being dragged into the 21st century to learn these technologies. But in a moment like this, our family has had two family Zoom sessions. It was helpful, but think of those poor families who don’t have access to this. So we must what? That’s one of the things we’ve got to fight for. It’s pushing to make sure that that digital divide is closed, that people have the training and orientation they need. But in the meantime, we must encourage people, pick up the phone, call your neighbor, call your mother, call your father. At least you can do that. Or maybe they can organize a conference call where people can talk to each other, because we need to deal with that isolation.
And in a weird kind of way, I know that social media is great and so forth and so on, but it also can be anonymous in some ways. The tradition of African people, we are feeling people. We are an emotive people who feel and touch. That’s a part of our spirituality and that’s what people really like about us. Our music. All of that reflects this. And so I also think that in a interesting kind of way, we hope that this will bind our communities together as we increasingly have to turn to each other, to embrace each other anyway that you can.
This busy world, you’re running and it’s easy to do a text and then do a quick Facebook thing, which is a little bit more interactive and so forth, but we really need more of that human touch. And so it may be awhile before we can do that, but we need to be thinking about that in terms of our sense of family that’s in its totality, not just biological family, but a community of all of us who are working together. Again, at the end of the day, it is really about… Because the people who have hope, get up and they move.
If I can use an illustration, Harold Washington’s campaign in Chicago, everybody… I mean, you had everybody… was involved in that. You had the people in the barber shop. You had the brothers and sisters on the corner. You had people in the illicit economy. Everybody was engaged in that, because somehow or another that Harold Washington campaign gave people hope. Well, we need to find out how to bottle that and keep it rolling consistently, because we are they who are at the very forefront, and have been at the forefront, when we are in our right mind, when we’re in our right sense of value. We have been at the cutting edge of fighting for not only ourselves, we’ve been at the cutting edge of fighting to end the oppression of all human beings.
Charity begins at home and spreads abroad. Love thy neighbor as thyself. But we have been out there fighting, and we will reclaim that moving forward in terms of really, really helping to organize people and whatnot. And let me just say too, one of the things that we’re doing, thankfully, on the IBW website, we have some really, really great people who have just contributed. So if you go to the IBW website, ibw21.org, I-B-W 21 dot org, you will see fact sheets. The Association Of Black Psychologists have done one and that’s a very African-centered one. You have more than one fact sheet on the website. You also have studies. We are putting information up as fast as we get it so people can see what’s happening, particularly on these critical issues of the disparities.
In fact, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, just within the last hour, has sent a letter to Health and Human Services, I guess, or maybe even the President. I don’t know where it went exactly. But what they’re saying is we want to count, we want to document where the disease is most prevalent, we want to know where the mortality rate is most prevalent, because that will influence public policy. In other words, we don’t want to be in a situation where you have this big caring package, but that caring package is not being distributed in accordance to where the greatest need is. We are clearly saying that the greatest need, both in terms of the infection of the disease and the mortality rate, but also the destruction of…
Economic infrastructure is very fragile. Very fragile. Why we have to have reparations, frankly. We will never overcome this until we’ve won them, and we will win reparations and it may even be… I’m getting up there, but may even be in my lifetime, but it doesn’t really matter. That struggle is important. So I’m just saying that it’s important that we also deal with this issue of economic justice, economic equity, as a part of this struggle. So again, I encourage people to go to the website, ibw21.org, ibw21.org, and you will see these resources, and you’ll get a chance to look at the press release that’s talking about this initiative and the work that we’re doing around that, the organizations that are involved in it, and whatever.
I am so proud that we are affiliated in a collaborative way, and that’s the important thing. There’s no competition here. We have to collaborate with each other. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We don’t have to worry about nobody else. We are it. Our composite knowledge is so important. Our sharing with each other is the greatest thing that we can do. That’s what we believe in, in the Institute of the Black World 21st century. We say we believe in cultivating a culture, a collaboration to heal, and then power black families, communities and nations.
Jacqueline L.: Well, Dr. Daniels, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of what I know is an incredibly and increasingly a more busy schedule with this particular initiative, and everything else you do. And I will be completely unashamed to say you are, and have been for many years, one of my personal heroes. So the pride in this initiative is absolutely all mine, and having talked to you and been able to share this information with our viewers and with our friends and family from someone who I admire so much. I thank you for everything you have done. Asking you to stay safe, continue to be careful. As always, just thank you for taking the time to talk with us about this information today.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Well, thank you. I’m coming from a gospel… I love my spirituals, and let me just assure you, got a few more aches than I used to have, but I ain’t no ways tired.
Jacqueline L.: Amen to that, and thank you all for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. Ain’t no ways tired myself. Not going to die for capitalism. Don’t want you to, either. Be safe, be well, and be informed.
Production: Genevieve Montinar
Studio: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Oscar León