U.S. Response to COVID-19 Equals Genocide for Blacks, but “Progressive” Leaders Offer Nothing But Words
AOC and Bernie Sanders made public condemnations of the corporate bailout but did little in the way of resistance.
“The epidemic represented a second virus for Black America which has only accelerated the genocide.”
The settler colonial history of the United States is rife with examples of outright genocide committed against Black Americans. During the period of chattel bondage, Black people were routinely tortured and murdered with impunity. So-called emancipation brought a wave of Jim Crow violence that kept Black Americans in a state of ceaseless terror. The fifty years since the end of the so-called Civil Rights period have been characterized by a deep, nation-wide denial of the ongoing genocide that the U.S. imperial state continues to impose on Black life. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the genocide of Black Americans and so-called “progressive” leaders in the Democratic Party have offered nothing but words in response.
COVID-19 is killing Black Americans at an alarming rate. In Chicago, Black Americans comprise thirty percent of the total population but seventy percent of all COVID-19 deaths. The same is true in Milwaukee, Louisiana, Michigan, and cities and states across the United States, wherever Black Americans reside. Anyone paying attention to the Black condition since the end of the Civil-Rights period should not be surprised by the fact that Black lives are dying at such a high level in this time of crisis. The conditions of late stage U.S. capitalism and the generations-long institutional denial of white supremacy have combined to create a vicious cycle of premature death for the Black poor.
“Black Americans comprise thirty percent of the total population but seventy percent of all COVID-19 deaths.”
A myriad of reasons explain why Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white Americans. Black Americans are most likely to work in low wage “shit” jobs now deemed essential by the lords of capital. According to the Brookings Institution, Black Americans make up twenty percent of all food service workers, janitors, and retail workers. Thirty percent of all bus drivers in the United States are Black American. Racial and economic exploitation has ensured that Black Americans live in crowded homes within crowded neighborhoods that lack decent transportation and healthcare services. Homelessness is a major risk for COVID-19. Black Americans make up forty percent of the homeless population. Even worse, Black Americans attempting to follow measures such as wearing masks are likely to face racist violence from police and other national security state forces. Police homicide is a leading cause of death for young Black Americans. Prisons, which have become a nesting ground for COVID-19, are overflowing with poor Black Americans. The probability that a poor Black male in the U.S. has spent time in prison is over fifty percent.
These conditions have produced a perfect storm for COVID-19 to wreak havoc on Black America. The various ills of late stage capitalism engendered by the U.S. response to COVID-19 such as a lack of COVID-19 testing, zero protection for health workers, and a large spike in unemployment have only made the situation worse. Corporate media outlets such as Buzzfeed and the Washington Post have commented on the perilous conditions facing Black Americans but have offered zero demands on power. Even worse, Black elected servants of the lords of capital such as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have teamed up with Elizabeth Warren to exploit Black death for political gain. Their shiny statement urging the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services to address racial disparities in its COVID-19 response will undoubtedly produce nothing substantial for Black Americans or anyone else since the Democratic Party possesses no political accountability with Black Americans or the rest of its captive base. The Democratic Party has already pushed through a multi-trillion-dollar bailout to the largest corporations and banks and no amount of statements or harsh words for Trump from Democrats in Congress will reverse it.
“Black Americans attempting to follow measures such as wearing masks are likely to face racist violence from police.”
Of course, this is by design. Black misleaders such as Kamala Harris and Cory Booker joined forces with Elizabeth “capitalist to my bones” Warren to denounce racial disparities not out of care for Black America but for their own self-serving interests. The late BAR Editor Bruce Dixon understood the machinations of the Democratic Party’s historic opportunism all too well and long ago concluded that the Democratic Party, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, offered only fake resistance to the Republican Partywhen there was no possibility of moving concrete progressive policies forward. When Democrats own a majority in the House and Senate, such as during the first term of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party machine abandons all promises and pushes for austerity and war in the name of compromise. This is what is meant by the Democratic Party only having words to offer when the genocidal conditions that Black Americans face each and every day become subject to public scrutiny.
That Black misleaders and corporate Democrats have nothing to offer Black Americans except words should come as little surprise given that they themselves have for decades participated in the genocide of the Black working class. Perhaps more surprising for a new generation of young, socialistic minded progressives is that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) and the rest of the so-called “populist” wing of the Democratic Party has offered little in the way of resistance to late stage capitalism during the COVID-19 pandemic for anyone, let alone Black America. AOC and Bernie Sanders made public condemnations of the corporate bailout but did little in the way of resistance. AOC has also used the subject of reparations to make shiny statements of her own. In a tweet on April 3rd, the democratic socialist Congresswoman explained that COVID-19 relief should be drawn up “with a lens of reparations.”
“The Democratic Party offered only fake resistance to the Republican Party.”
AOC provided no further explanation as to how she defines her reparations lens, or how it can be implemented in the struggle against the lords of capital. Reparations is great for likes and retweets on Twitter but without a Black political conversation and movement, the word is essentially meaningless. Bernie Sanders and “The Squad” had the opportunity to truly differentiate themselves from the Democratic Party establishment by voting down the bailout and explaining their reasoning to the masses. Instead, the bailout passed without resistance and the ongoing genocide of Black American became just another opportunity to feign resistance to the White Man’s Republican Party. The decrepit and inhumane foundation of late stage capitalism has been laid bare, yet the masses possess no viable organized leadership to turn this crisis into an opportunity to strengthen the power of the people.
Such leadership will not come from a Democratic Party electoral campaign or a politician like Bernie Sanders who is willing to endorse Joe Biden and the myriad of capitalist forces that back him. White supremacy is its own plague, and it is the job of the imperial state to keep the oppressed infected. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani clarified his view that the Islamic Republic handled COVID-19 more effectively than Europe or the United States, stating “We had a sanctions virus, to which the coronavirus was added, but you did not have the sanctions virus. You have one virus while we have two viruses.” White supremacy has also acted as a destructive virus in Black American life for centuries, causing an untold number of deaths and effectively burying Black America at the bottom of the United States’ class structure. COVID-19 represented a second virus for Black America which has only accelerated the genocide that the U.S. political establishment is either ignoring or exploiting for electoral reasons.
“White supremacy is its own plague, and it is the job of the imperial state to keep the oppressed infected.”
COVID-19 has above all demonstrated that there is no room within the U.S. imperial state for even the most modest of social welfare reforms that by themselves wouldn’t ease the full extent of the war on Black Americans. For many who remain hopeful that a 21st century New Deal Democrat will save them, the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and Bernie Sanders’ capitulation to the establishment provides fertile conditions for despair. But for the left, the real left, this is a time for serious discussion about the need to build grassroots working class militancy at all levels of U.S. society. Any success in this area will require a true reckoning with the ways in which COVID-19 has only worsened the genocidal conditions imposed on Black America. While so-called progressive leaders like AOC offer empty tweets and statements, we must continue to prepare ourselves for the war that is already here and consider the formation of a new party of the working class. This party must reject the two-party duopoly and commit itself to serving the people and respecting the self-determination of oppressed nations. Most importantly, this party must discuss and debate a strategy that centers on disrupting and challenging the power of capital at the point of production. Anything less will not convince the people that it can ease the pain produced by the genocidal combination of COVID-19 and U.S. imperial decline.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong
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