By Sara Chitseko:
Coronavirus has made starkly obvious what we already knew; that our current systems and ways of living do not protect the lives of the most marginalised. Black and Brown communities are dying at a 27% higher rate than white people; 63% of health workers who have died have been BME, including the first 10 doctors. Coronavirus has shown us that Black and Brown people are more likely to die from the virus and we are also disproportionately likely to be key workers in the plight to save lives. It has exposed the undeniable link between racism and capitalism. The government expects the Black and Brown communities they were happy to deport yesterday, to save their lives and the economy today.
Just last February, Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced a new immigration system which would “end free movement once and for all,” subjecting millions more people to the hostile environment. If before Covid-19 the Bill incited fear, in the context of Covid-19, her strategy is absolutely absurd. It would exclude social carers, teaching and healthcare assistants, cleaners, childcare workers, as well as many others now deemed key workers, all of whom are increasingly regarded as the essential backbone of this country. For now, the Bill has been suspended.
27% of the prison population in England and Wales are from BAME communities, despite only accounting for 13% of the wider population - this disproportionality increases in the youth estate, where over 50% of incarcerated young people are from BAME communities. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, it has been reported that inmates will be put to work making PPE for just £12.50 a week. A report by Liberty Investigates revealed that many inmates are being kept on 23.5 hour lock down and have not been issued with basic sanitation supplies - those without a toilet in their cell are having to defecate in buckets. The government will profit off the labour of these people who are already surviving unthinkable conditions. It is seriously disturbing that the government is exploiting the prison population, using their cheap labour to cover their own failures in adequately equipping those on the front line of this crisis.
The racism that is intrinsic to our capitalist system is not only embedded within institutions and policies, it filters through to public consciousness. Prior to coronavirus, we saw it in the global rise of far-right nationalism and the doubling of reported hate crimes in this country over the last five years. This can be attributed in no small part to the government's determination to scapegoat Black and Brown people for the last 10 years of austerity and is particularly true for those without secure immigration statuses. We can also see the impact of racism in public attitudes since coronavirus took hold in the UK. A poll carried out by nfpSynergy, showed that people care more about their pets than those in prison, with people in immigration detention ranking only slightly higher. There is a cognitive dissonance, perpetuated by politicians and the media, which purports that Black and Brown communities are to blame for society's problems, rather than policy makers and big corporations who profit off of inequity.
The relationship between capitalism and racism is not a new phenomenon - they have always been intrinsically connected. At present, the criminal justice system, the education system and our healthcare system, continue to protect and uphold white privilege, while profiting off of Black and Brown lives. This issue is not only systemic, but intergenerational. From environmental injustices, to the rapid and continuous expansion of the prison industrial complex, the intersections of capitalism and racism continue to inflict violence upon Black and Brown communities. But we are now at a turning point. Just as coronavirus has caused unbelievable catastrophe and devastation, it has also produced a free for all for social change to happen. We must hold those in power to account and organise to build a society that truly values our lives. There may not be another opportunity to transform society like this within our lifetimes.