Why is Covid Killing People of Colour? Presented by David Harewood, Director Jason Bernard.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000sv1d/why-is-covid-killing-people-of-colour

David Harewood an actor (whose work I’m unfamiliar with) recently presented a BBC 1 documentary about mental health. His story about being black and being sectioned when he was aged 23, Psychosis and Me, asked questions of society. He found black men like him were more likely to be seen as a threat and sectioned and given higher doses of anti-psychotic medication. Here he has a larger stage to show that Black Lives Matter, when, of course, for the Tory government and society at large they clearly don’t.  

Kenan Malik, for example, quotes from a paper recently published by the Policy Institute at King’s College, London, Unequal Britain, and public attitudes to inequality. In it they find around 13% stated ‘most black people don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.’ This fits in with a larger class narrative of other people, black people, being responsible for spikes in Covid-19. A failure of morality framed around individual shortcomings, which was favoured by nearly half of those in the study. A Victorian response to the feckless poor was a call for them to learn life-lessons from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in the twenty-first century. Of blaming the poor for being poor. Of blaming Covid victims of bringing it all on themselves.

The report suggests conclusion ‘there is no appetite for change’ is mirrored by an exchange between Harewood and black MP (her skin colour is important) Kemi Badenoch, the government’s minister for equalities. He wants to know why she has dismissed the idea racism might have played a role in putting black and minority ethnic communities at risk from Covid-19.

‘Come on David, you and I both know that things are getting better’, she said.

The Tory government response to reports of structural racism endemic to society is to wheel out MPs like Badenoch, and Priti Patel, or even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak as exemplars of meritocracy. The no colour bar. The no class bar. That all we need to do as individuals is try harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There’s no structural problems. No institutionalised racism.  Grenfell Tower, of course, stands as an indictment against such government propaganda that seeks to name and shame and neuter power, take it out of politics, and shut down debate about inequality and racism.  

Harewood visits Tamira, whose father was one of the first members of NHS staff to die from Covid-19. She tells us how not enough was done to protect him at work. He lacked protective equipment, but felt unable to complain. Senior-management posts are, of course, predominantly white for historical, racist reasons. And 95% of those medical doctors killed by the Covid-19 are not white.  Those facing the viral onslaught are people of colour.

Harewood’s experience as a young man is mirrored by researcher Dr Jenny Douglas investigating people of colours experience of the NHS during and after childbirth. Her research found black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than their white cohort. Women she interviewed felt their concerns were not heard by health professionals. And black women were given less medication during childbirth on the assumption black women were somehow able to bare more pain than white women.

American professor Arline Geronimus suggests living with racism has a physiological impact on the body. Constant stress and the expectation that people of colour will be attacked verbally or physically produce cortisone which dampens the immune response. Black patients age faster and suffer from poor health much earlier – a process she calls ‘weathering‘.  Black patients’ chronological age does not match their physiological age. Their kidneys and hearts, for example, look as if they belong to a much older patient. And, of course, they die younger.

Harewood meets Andrew Grieve, an air quality expert from Kings College London, who states air pollution can harm every organ in your body, including the placenta. He shows a map of how this is related to income in London. The greater your exposure to air pollution the lower your income.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, for example, lost her nine-year-old daughter Ella in 2013 to a fatal asthma attack. Ella’s most severe attacks coincided with local spikes in (mainly traffic) pollution. Simply, poor black people live beside busy roads. And in America hot spots which showed where temperatures were highest mapped out where black people lived. Places so hot it was difficult to get a breath.

 Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah campaigned to get air pollution listed as a cause of her daughter’s death. In a landmark ruling in December 2020, the coroner found in her favour, the first time ever that air quality has been acknowledged as a cause of death in the UK. Local authorities now have a duty of care to do something. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Dr Marina Soltan, a respiratory doctor, whose research shows that patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension or kidney disease are nearly twice as likely to die from Covid-19, and that many patients with these conditions come from deprived areas.

Dr Guddi Singh, a paediatric doctor and health expert, who reveals that what happened in Brent is mirrored across the country, where nearly 65 per cent of the local population are black, Asian or from other minority ethnic groups, but the borough had in March 2019 the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the country. Harewood as a black man is nearly three times more likely to die from Covid-19 that those classified as white. Dr Singh explains that a significant risk factor is the job key workers do. They risk their lives, exposing themselves to the virus to keep the country running. People may clap them, but they’ll not promote them, or offer a pay rise.   

The documentary used empirical data to establish what we already know, IPPR and the Runnymede Trust recently estimated almost 60,000 more deaths involving coronavirus could have occurred in England and Wales if white people faced the same risk as black communities.

It found 35,000 more white people could have died if the risk was the same as for the south Asian population.

Investigating claims that there’s something lacking in people of colour that make them more susceptible than white cohorts to the Covid-19 virus. It’s not us, it’s them argument with racist undertones, that regularly crop up in relation to intelligence. The tendency of 70% of Afro-Americans, for example, to be Vitamin D deficient, which is mirrored in the United Kingdom.

This argument was countered in two ways. Going through the charade of Harewood being tested, which showed he was a bit Vitamin D deficient. And Harewood being told that levels of Covid in Africa tend to be less than in whiter Western nations.

Harewood had an obligation to speak out, and he did so, but given the tools to challenge a government minister’s waffling- quite simply- he folded. The working-class cringe is still alive and people of colour should wince when watching.  

Small Axe: Mangrove, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen, directed by Steve McQueen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08vy19b/small-axe-series-1-mangrove

In my day Steve McQueen was the go-to guy if you wanted ride a motorcycle over barbed wire to escape the Germans, or rescue screaming women and children from a building skyscraper. We’re still waiting for the enquiry into Grenfell Tower, but we all know the score. Nothing much will be done, while the issues of class and race hatred will be quietly shunted into a side-line of something been seen to be done offscreen.

The black Steve McQueen is the new king of cool. He can do pretty much anything, (apart from ride a motorbike over barbed wire) and won pretty much everything, including an Oscar for best film, 12 Years a Slave. He’s part of the establishment and being given an OBE.  He edited The Guardian’s The New Review to publicise his film anthology about historical injustices involving racial discrimination. BBC gave him a prime Sunday night slot for his drama.

Steve McQueen claims, ‘With Small Axe I want to reshape history’.

That sort of stuff doesn’t make me think of invading Poland, but of a joke in which Jesus answers a parable with a parable in which adulterous woman are going to be stoned.

‘If anyone is without sin, let them fling the first stone.’

And the Virgin Mary lobs a big rock.

Steve McQueen can’t walk on water.  In the first episode of his series, Mangrove, depicts a true story about what happened in Notting Hill in early 1970s. His aim is to get under your skin.

Mangrove is the name of a West Indian restaurant opened by Frank Chrislow (Shaun Parkes)  and closed, nine times in three weeks by the Metropolitan Police. Chrislow was following the dictates of the Enlightenment written in black and white in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations which extolled the righteousness of free enterprise, free from political intervention, government interference or legal restraint, ‘ruled by divine law for the ultimate being of all’.

Enoch Powell’s River of Blood Speech 20th April 1968 in Birmingham. ‘If they’re black-send them back.’ Remember that? Pre-Brexit, the threat of the black invasion. They were over here threatening our British way of life. ‘No blacks, No Irish, No dogs.’ It’s just as well we’ve moved on since them and we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary enforcing a policy of deporting refugees, equally, regardless of skin colour. Anyone sleeping rough can be deported back to their country, even if they’ve not got a country. It’s just best guess.

A cameo in Mangrove shows how that works. The rookie cop at Notting Hill station is playing at cards. He picks out the Ace of Spades. The other cops josh him, ‘you know what that means?’

He’s told that he needs to nick the first black man he spots.

‘What if he hadn’t committed an offence?’ the rookie cop asks.

In case you don’t get the Ace of Spades reference, we see the cops chasing a black guy and arresting him.

Frank Crichlow has committed even more of an offence. He’s opened a restaurant that sells spicy food such as goat curry. Worse than that it’s full of British people of West Indian descent that play cards and listen to music. In cop parlance that’s dealing drugs and running a prostitution ring.

Fling into the toxic mix Altheia Jones-LeCointe  (Letitia Wright) mouthy student, and leader of the British version of the Black Panthers. Add in Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) whose study into black oppression suddenly includes his lover Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and their child threatened with being taken into care.

Show don’t tell is one of the rules of screenwriting (and writing in general). We can’t taste spicy food or curry, but we can listen to the music. We can see how the community lived. The before and the aftermath of police brutality and cover-ups.  The laws that are suddenly dragged out of retirement home for white people to confront a lippy West Indian community. New laws made on the spot for troublemakers.

We see the ‘riot’. We follow the arrests. There’s even time to nip off and get a screenshot of Chrichlow’s white girlfriend in the mirror telling him to come back to bed. That’s a double-dunt, in case you missed it, he’s not racist—they are. The establishment is.

Nine black men and women, including Chrichlow, are tried at the High Court, the Old Bailey. Incitement to riot and affray. They face serious prison time. Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) is described the Defence Advocate as your typical bully boy. In a different age he might well have become Prime Minister. Here he’s presiding over a case where no one will admit they’re guilty. Cops are always right, even when they’re wrong. And it’s not the Mangrove Nine who are on trial but the British establishment.

Viewers know how it ends, but we watch anyway as all wrongs are righted, or something like that. Rishi Sunak occupies 11 Downing Street, he’s looking to upgrade and evict the buffoon next door, all the better to deport even more refugees, wanting something for nothing. Even Steve McQueen OBE would find it difficult to write that script. It’s got to be Grenfell, that would be my cry. Grenfell puts these stories into the shade.