• Ruth

Living in a European country as a Black woman during a pandemic

As a Black woman, there are two aspects of my life I know I shouldn't take lightly : my safety and my health. For those two aspects, I am way too aware of the way colored people can be treated by the police or in medical care. And that definitely shaped the way I chose to behave during the last lockdown.


The restrictions were by far less harsh than during the first lockdown. We were asked to stay home. But it was possible to meet with one other household outside. And we could go out within 5 km of our homes. The parks and playgrounds remained opened and so did the schools. So this time around, thankfully, it wasn't a complete ban of social life.


But within our social circle, there were a few times where a line could have been crossed.

The occasional "do you want to come inside for a cup of coffee ?", or "hey... the neighbors are gathering, do you want to join?" or "come to our place (outside of your 5 km range)!"


And my answer to those would always be the same : "no thank you". A " no thank you" that would always cause a great emotional turmoil for me since I find it quite hard to say no to people.

(I analyze it's a remnant of my teenage years... you know, that need to feel included and to seem "cool". But this is not a therapy session so let's move on, shall we?)


I didn't understand why it was so hard for me to just go with the flow, accept the damn invitations and be done with the self inflicted mental torture already.


And then one day, while talking to my good friend C., the unconscious reason preventing me from accepting the "forbidden" invitation revealed itself to me as I blurted : "I would love to go, but as a Black woman who's living in a foreign country, I think I'd rather stay put".

And the minute I said it, I knew it was exactly what prevented me from taking the restrictions lightly by going one kilometer further, or risking being caught in a large gathering.


Because as a Black woman, there are two aspects of my life I know I shouldn't take lightly : my safety and my health.

For those two aspects, I am way too aware of the way colored people can be treated by the police or in medical care. And that definitely shapes the way I behaved during those particular times.


I am convinced that as a black woman living in Europe, in order for me to thrive, I need to secure the conditions of my survival.


And for me, that includes staying away from the police.

Or at least, not knowingly doing something illegal that could put me in a bad position.

Police violence and racism are way to vivid in my brain. And even if I were to forget about it, it keeps happening. It happened just last week in France, when Michel Zecler, a black man, was savagely beaten inside his music studio (with a side of racist slurs served to him) by police officers who didn't know they were being filmed.

Granted, I live in Ireland which probably has the nicest, most civil policemen in the world. So I have never felt threatenned by them in any way, far from it actually.

But still... There is always a "what if" for me that I'd rather keep in mind. Just in case.


As for my health, well...

Enough stories and statistics are seared into my brain to make me want to avoid being unconscious under medical care (trigger warning : those statistics might be hard to read but necessary)

For instance, I know that in the US, a black woman is 2 or 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

Also in the US, a recent study showed that black babies are less likely to die when cared for by black doctors.

I also remember Joyce Echaquan, a Attikamek woman (in Canada) who went on a Facebook live while she was hospitalized and administered morphine after she specifically warned her medical team that she was allergic. Racist slurs can distinctly be heard in the video while the mother of 7 calls for help and ultimately dies.


Closer to us, in France, Naomi Musenga, a young black woman called the Samu (the French 911) because she was in pain and got mocked while she was agonizing on the phone. She died 5 hours after calling. She was 22.

A study conducted a year after her passing showed that she was not an isolated case. And that people calling the SAMU with an African sounding name where more likely to face discrimination and poorer service.

I also know of the Mediterranean syndrome, which is a (racist) cultural stereotype that can lead medical staff to downplay the pain of patients of colors, which can lead to a poor quality of treatment for said patients.


So, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have that notion that we are not all equal while in medical care.


Plus, personally, I have my fair share of medical anecdotes that show me I am not the medical standard here in Europe. I am an exception.


Literally two days ago, my doctor called me to give me the results of my blood test and informed me that my white blood cell was a little low "but that was quite usual for African people and that the standard used was Caucasian". Ok... what if that hides something else ?


A few months back, my dentist told me that my wisdom tooth extraction might take him longer to perform because "African patients seemed to have stronger gums" or was it "deeper teeth implantation" ? Anyway... you get the idea.


And a few years ago, back in France, I had to have a C-section because the measurement of my pelvis indicated that a natural birth was not an option for my breech baby. And I remember being told back then that those measurements were quite common for African women.


I am not saying that those doctors are wrong.

What I AM saying is that I feel safer when I'm fully awake and in a position of asking a series of questions that assure me that they DO see ME as a whole person. And not as some kind of statistic forged by their experience and whatever bias they may or may not have.


So I will be damned if in the middle of a pandemic, I do anything BUT what is legally expected of me.

I will wear a mask when required.

I will stay within a 5 kilometer distance from my home.

I will refrain from inviting people into my home.


It doesn't mean that I'm cutting all my social ties, far from it.


And it doesn't mean that I agree with everything that is happening. Or that I'm happy about the restrictions. Again, far from it.


But knowing what I know about the treatment of black bodies by the police or in medical care, it would be foolish of me to act otherwise without an extremely good reason to do so.

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