Wisconsin’s primary subjected people of color to yet another Covid-19 disadvantage | David Bowen

April 28, 2020

The threat of the coronavirus is only compounded by a legacy of racial disparities that makes Milwaukee one of the worst places to be black in the US

Its a hoax, Donald Trump said.

Its just the flu, my friend told me.

Black people cant get it was the rumor.

These were the wrong and misleading statements that went through my head as I hung up the phone with my doctor confirming I had, indeed, tested positive for Covid-19.

From the beginning, few, including me, treated this as the public health threat it actually was. I was loose with precautions, washing all the living moisture out of my hands, but not properly practicing social distancing.

When I started paying attention to the local health departments statistics, the numbers still didnt look too daunting. Sure, Milwaukee county had total 145 cases, half of the state number, and it was concentrated in black and Hmong communities on the citys north side.

Then one day I sat with a fellow local elected official at a cafe. Within 48 hours, I had body aches, chills and an irritating cough. Those symptoms over days would escalate until I had a fever over 103F (39.4C), shortness of breath and a tightness in my chest that would not go away.

Night after night I woke up in cold sweats, barely able to stay awake during the day.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Milwaukee had soared from three to 13. Of those, all had been middle-aged black men and women 54 years of age and up.

One of those victims included my mentor, Lenard Wells. He was a great leader: a former Milwaukee police department officer advocating for reform, and later as a radio host. While I was lucky enough to survive my experience with Covid-19, this great man was taken from us at the age of just 69.

In the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Milwaukees black community will be uniquely affected by the coronavirus. Wisconsins governor, Tony Evers, characterized the explosion of Covid-19 in the states communities of color as a crisis within a crisis.

For Milwaukees black residents, hes exactly right. The threat of the coronavirus is only compounded by a legacy of racial disparities that makes the city one of the worst places to be black in America.

Although black people make up only 25% of Milwaukee countys population, we account for about 50% of its coronavirus cases, and nearly 75% of the deaths from the disease.

Milwaukees black community has already been one of the biggest losers of globalization. Our communities watched helplessly as corporations outsourced jobs to other countries, or left the cities and relocated to the suburb.

This has left many in our community working service-sector jobs, earning low wages and interacting with the public everyday. Working from home is not an option for a vast majority in our community.

In a public health emergency like this, the reality becomes especially dangerous: hardworking, low-income individuals are now even more susceptible to contracting the virus at work and bringing it back home to their families.

Add to that a lack of access to adequate healthcare or a primary physician, and pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension and we have the unfortunate truth: while white communities get sick, black communities are more likely to die from the same illness.

Tuesdays election left our communities of color subject to yet another disadvantage as we fight the spread.

By blocking attempts to postpone our primary, state Republicans and the Wisconsin supreme court sought to disenfranchise thousands of people. Poll closures primarily affect communities of color, who often dont have the same access to early or absentee voting, or use public transportation.

But as Milwaukee looks to the future, there have been some glimmers of hope. Local innovation within the city has sparked new opportunities for black businesses and contractors.

The Democratic national convention, with a projected $70m in revenue for local businesses and contractors has breathed new life into our mid-size city with a small-town midwest feel.

More people are seeing Milwaukees greatness and the possibility of a better future that could benefit everyone within our city, no matter their background.

Im grateful to say, by the grace of God, I made it through a tough battle fully recovered to be able to help fight for that future and end those disparities.

The amount of work, investment, and coordination required to close the gaps that exist will be nothing short of significant.

But it is necessary to fight the a crisis within a crisis.

  • David Bowen is a Democratic Wisconsin state representative for district 10 in Milwaukee county

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/08/wisconsin-coronavirus-black-communities-inequality