Centering Afro-Latino Stories As Latin America Becomes The World's New COVID-19 Epicenter
Plus, here's what the Black Lives Matter movement looks like in Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina, New York Times sues CDC for new racial data, photographers document reopened Black barbershops & more.
Speak Patrice Presents: Coronavirus News for Black Folks is an independent newsletter that aims to empower our community by sharing coronavirus (COVID-19) news and stories as they relate to the Black Diaspora. We have 1,760 subscribers as of July 3, 2020.
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OP-ED: In The New Epicenter of COVID-19, Afro-Brazilians Face Record Police Killings As The Pandemic Disproportionately Devastates Their Communities
By Kiratiana Freelon
Kiratiana Freelon is a Black American freelance reporter who has been living and working in Brazil since traveling there in 2015 to report on the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She also runs Coisa de Preto (which roughly translates to “It's a Black Thing”), an excellent newsletter focused on Black news and culture from Brazil. We invited Kiratiana to contribute to this week’s newsletter in light of (1) Brazil being projected to have the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll by late July, according to The New York Times, and (2) the nation’s history of exponential racially disparate police killings.
Photo by Pedro Céu on Unsplash
Like many Afro-Brazilian women, Cleonice Gonçalves, 63, made her living working for a wealthy white Brazilian family as a domestic servant. She attended to their cleaning and cooking needs while sleeping in a tiny maid's quarters four days a week, far from her own home. When her female employer returned from a vacation in Italy last February, the Black woman caught coronavirus from her and died within one day of checking into a hospital. She became Rio de Janeiro's first Covid-19 victim on March 17. Her death saddened, but didn't shock me.
In those early days of the pandemic, my Brazilian friends and I had predicted that if the coronavirus spread from the wealthy white Brazilians to those who live in favelas and poor outlying communities overwhelmingly populated by Afro-Brazilians, it would spread quickly and receive comparatively little help or attention. Because people can't practice social distancing properly in cramped houses filled with extended family, and when they stay home, they don't earn money. They can’t regularly wash their hands and clean surfaces when experiencing frequent water and power outages. And so when the coronavirus inevitably struck these vulnerable communities, local collectives and solidarity groups supported their own overlooked residents with food baskets, hygiene kits, and direct cash gifts. One favela in São Paulo even contracted its own doctors and ambulances.
Unfortunately, Brazil has mirrored the United States in its unorganized response to the coronavirus. The national government disregarded social distancing measures and went against the wishes of state governors by encouraging people to go to work. Like President Donald Trump, president Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus, calling it a "little flu,” only to test positive for the virus, as reported this week (he also continues to promote hydroxychloroquine as a viable coronavirus treatment). Two health ministers have already resigned and Brazil has yet to fill the position. Despite it all, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has maintained a 40 percent approval rating. President Jair Bolsonaro models himself after President Donald Trump and Brazil's coronavirus deaths are proof of this.
As an international reporter based in Brazil, I’m in a difficult personal situation right now: my home country the United States has the largest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, while my adopted country Brazil is right behind in second place. Since Gonçalves' death in mid-March, more than 65,000 Brazilians have died from Covid-19. A recent study confirmed that mixed-race and Afro-Brazilians have higher rates of death from Covid-19, with poor, older Afro-Brazilian men being the most likely to die from Covid-19. These disparities undoubtedly stem from structural racism.
When Brazil became the last country to free enslaved Blacks in the Americas in 1888, it provided no education, jobs, or support. Today, Brazil's 100 million Afro-Brazilians and mixed-race people earn about 50% less than whites, often live in precarious housing, and have a dramatically lower life span. The Latin American nation’s coronavirus crisis also highlights regional inequality. In the Amazon forest region, home to most of Brazil's Indigenous population and an area recently ravaged by unchecked wildfires, there are also higher levels of Covid-19 deaths. Until today, Brazil's government has done nothing to better protect these at-risk communities, whether urban, rural, or forest-dwellers.
And the pandemic didn't stop police violence, as many had hoped. Brazil's police kill at least 6,000 people per year—80% of them young Afro-Brazilian men—four times as many as American police. Afro-Brazilian activists refer to this as a genocide, and fighting against this genocide has been an integral part of Brazil's Black social movement for the last 40 years. While state governments encouraged people to stay at home and continue social distancing, state police used these quiet times to attack favelas and periphery communities, killing already vulnerable young Afro-Brazilian men. During the pandemic, Rio's police violence has increased by 43 percent, even though overall violence is down. Across Brazil, police murders have increased by 26 percent. Among the 1,200 people who have died during the pandemic, we will always remember 14-year-old João Pedro, who was fatally shot by police on May 18 in the stomach while playing inside his aunt's house. Maintaining self-quarantine measures, Brazil's Black and favela activists followed up his death with massive digital protests.
When the Black Lives Matters uprisings erupted in the United States several weeks later, Brazil's anti-racism activists felt empowered to take their protests to the streets, organizing anti-racism and anti-police violence protests across Brazil. The gatherings weren’t massive numbers-wise, but never before has there been more discussion online and on television around racism in Brazil—the so-called racial democracy. More recently, the death of 5-year-old Miguel Otávio Santana da Silva has also put a mirror up to Brazil's structural and interpersonal racism. His black mother, a domestic servant, was forced to take him to work during the pandemic. The boy plunged nine stories to his death when her white boss failed to look after him, having sent his mother to walk the dog. Why was his mother working during a pandemic? Why did she have to work as a domestic servant? Why was a toddler given less care and consideration than a dog? Structural and interpersonal racism are woven into the answer.
My sense is that these recent uprisings may signal the beginning of a new movement, but I won't know the results until two years from now, when Brazil enters its next presidential race. As of now, I can't say for certain that these conversations around racism and the accompanying protests have changed the country for the better.
8 TOP STORIES RE: CORONAVIRUS NEWS FOR BLACK FOLKS IN LATIN AMERICA
Latin America Is Ready for Its Black Lives Matter Reckoning — New York Times
Related: In Brazil, the death of a poor black child in the care of rich white woman brings a racial reckoning — Washington Post
Black Lives Matter comes to Colombia — The Bogota Post
Cutbacks in Mexico put centers for indigenous, Afro-Mexican women at risk — Thomson Reuters Foundation
🇺🇸 National News
“…new federal data — made available after The New York Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reveals a clearer and more complete picture: Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups.”
“…Black and Hispanic households with children are now nearly twice as likely to be struggling with food as similar white families. The wide racial gaps have persisted week to week throughout the pandemic…The gap between Hispanic and white households now also appears to be worsening.”
“A new study, published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, used data on protests from more than 300 of the largest US cities, and found no evidence that coronavirus cases grew in the weeks following the beginning of the protests. In fact, researchers determined that social distancing behaviors actually went up after the protests -- as people tried to avoid the protests altogether. But obviously, these demonstrations caused a decrease in social distancing among actual protesters.”
“In the long term, such efforts may help some Black businesses, he says, but will also push a ‘mythology’ that this sort of spending can itself close the centuries-old racial wealth gap…what’s needed is policy change aimed at shifting ‘how wealth is generated and where it goes.’”
“A backlog of eviction cases is beginning to move through the court system as millions of Americans who had counted on federal aid and eviction moratoriums to stay in their homes now fear being thrown out. A crisis among renters is expected to deepen this month as the enhanced unemployment benefits that have kept many afloat run out at the end of July and the $1,200-per-adult stimulus payment that had supported households earlier in the crisis becomes a distant memory.”
“Among the 61% of facilities that report race and ethnicity, 87% of the workers affected were minorities, with the largest share Hispanic (56%), followed by non-Hispanic Blacks (19%) and Asians (12%). That’s out of proportion with the demographics for the plants overall, which were 39% white, 30% Hispanic, 25% Black and 6% Asian, illustrating the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities.”
“Government statistics from late January through May 30 suggest an increase in U.S. deaths from chronic diseases compared with historical trends. They include 7,000 excess deaths from hypertension, about 4,000 from diabetes and 3,000 from strokes — all conditions that disproportionately affect Black people, although the data don’t include race.”
“‘They see a black mayor making a decision they don’t like, and so it’s not the decision that’s the issue, it’s my race…It’s who I am. It’s this threat. It’s this bullying.’”
“While I was in the seat, a regular customer fell back into those old instincts: He popped his head in the door, mask lowered under his mouth, and asked Benoit to give him a number of people ahead of him. What followed is practically unheard of in Brooklyn barbershops. First, the customer was told to come inside and close the door. Next, Benoit told him there was “none of that ‘how many we got’ anymore,” eliciting an audible shocked grunt from the patron.”
“The Wilder Foundation’s Minnesota Homeless Study identified an estimated 19,600 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2018 with 57% reporting chronic medical conditions. It revealed that African-American and American Indian people are overrepresented in the homeless population.”
“Black workers now have the highest unemployment rate compared to other racial or ethnic groups.”
📰 LOCAL NEWS
NEW HAMPSHIRE — COVID-19 hitting NH’s Black and Latino communities hard
NORTH CAROLINA — Charlotte minister delivers free meals to those impacted by COVID-19
🌍 Global News
“The INSEE agency’s findings, published on Tuesday, are the closest France has come to acknowledging with numbers the disproportionate impact of the virus on the country’s black immigrants and members of other overlooked minority groups.”
“…all 14 of these new cases were all imported from the United States on arriving flights...Six of the new cases are non-residents – with five of them staying in St. James and the other one in Westmoreland.”
“One nation, inhabited by most South Africans, lives a precarious existence, where homes are vulnerable to flooding, shack fires and demolition by the state. The national lockdown has meant that millions have gone without income and food. The other, much smaller and elite nation, lives in relative prosperity, where among the major remaining concerns under the national lockdown is when overnight holidays will be allowed.”
“Recruited and trained by government and charities — they are found from Kenya to Tanzania, Ethiopia to Malawi, Liberia to South Africa — the women go door to door, dispensing advice on everything from family planning to immunisations.”
“Looking back, the playbook appears to be a strategy that would have undoubtedly saved lives and helped the public during a pandemic. It outlines reactions to an Elevated Threat, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and a Credible Threat. It also lists pathogens and viruses that could be a threat, including strains of the coronavirus (SARS and MERS, both of which emerged in the 21st century, were also coronaviruses).”
“As parallel plagues, these same intersecting systems that impact Black women’s exposure to the pandemic also shape their increased exposure to police brutality and mass-incarceration, adding to the avalanche of injuries. Yet, similar to the lack of attention to accurate COVID-19 data, there is a lack of emphasis on Black women.”
⚠️ NON-CORONAVIRUS NEWS, BUT IMPORTANT
“They held him in the restraint for more than 10 minutes after the teen, who was Black, threw a piece of bread, then waited another 12 minutes as he lay "limp and unresponsive" before calling 911, according to the documents.”
“Transgender and gender non-conforming people face a heightened risk of fatal violence, and Black transgender women are especially vulnerable because of a ‘a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny’…”
“According to the advocacy group Black Alliance for Just Immigration, 76 percent of Black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds, compared to 45 percent of all immigrants. Despite making up only 7.2 percent of the noncitizen population in the US, more than 20 percent of people facing deportation on criminal grounds are Black.”
“Rashad West went from hardworking teen to college athlete to restaurant owner by the age of 26. Then he single-handedly proved that George Floyd was not resisting arrest.”
Before I Go…
I guest hosted an episode of the Longform podcast featuring Kierna Mayo and another episode featuring Jacqueline Charles (the Miami Herald Caribbean Correspondent who I actually shouted out in an early newsletter issue.) I’ll be interviewing another journalism trailblazer for Longform this week, so stay tuned for that episode…
Other than that, I’ve been trying my best to juggle running this newsletter solo while working on freelance pieces and caring for personal health and wellness. If anyone has any advice on how to best manage a newsletter or independent news project, I’m open to advice and feedback! I’m also interested in full-time writing opportunities where I can continue to write about race, culture, and identity at a leading publication for a decent salary at a considerate pace (ie. no content farm culture), so feel free to send any leads my way.
Stay safe & take care ✊🏿💗