The Burden of the Black Mother

Members of the “Mothers of the Movement,” who are mothers of victims of police shootings, in July 2016.

By

As soon as Mamie Till-Mobley, then Mamie Till, learned of her son’s torture and murder, she got to writing. There was work to be done, a need to understand every detail, a responsibility greater than her own healing. Her memoir — she did not live to witness its publication some 50 years later — reflects, “Emmett was dead. They had pulled his body from the Tallahatchie River … weighted down by a heavy gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire … I had to get everything down … I was the one who was going to have to explain to people.”

The ritual of a Black mother’s public grief after her child is stolen from this Earth is an American obsession, however numbing. It’s tradition to focus on watching what this Black mother does and what that Black mother says, not because we care for her — we’re focused because we care about what she can do for the rest of us.

Till-Mobley’s instinct wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t imagining more pressure for herself than what was foisted on her; instead, she vocalized Black mothers’ most conflicting internal monologue, the one where we’re conditioned as selfless beings told to withstand more than the rest, represented not as mothers of our own children but mothers of movements and a nation. Within moments of learning their baby is gone, their worst nightmare realized, they are asked to comment, to mourn publicly but to do so with restraint, to impart some kind of hopeful message or motivation, to provide a call to action, to do something, anything, larger with their pain than to grieve.

Nearly six decades after Till-Mobley started writing, Sybrina Fulton found herself in similar circumstances, sitting in court identifying her child’s screams in the background of a recorded 911 call. Fulton was thrust into the spotlight in the most tragic way. She would later say, “At first, I didn’t want to be the voice for Trayvon after he died, but I decided I have no choice. Now, I’m called to act and called to serve.”

She did not stand alone with this burden. Fulton, Lezley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother), and Lucy McBath (Jordan Davis’s mother) all translated their worst personal traumas into tangible political and civic action. Not only was each asked to calm her raging community by speaking to crowds while at her own loss for words, all three ran for office to try to find justice for their children. McBath won her race for Congress; Fulton’s and McSpadden’s efforts came up as short as the system that had failed their sons. Where they were willing to do everything in their limited power to recover from this great American debt, they did not receive that backing in return.

The problem with seeing Black mothers as an endless energy source, both in the home and on the world stage, is that it conflates all their sacrifices with superhuman strength. Their every decision becomes one made on behalf of Black people and on behalf of the entire Republic, instead of part of their own restoration. We prioritize our needs over theirs, assuming they can forgo their own. Absolve a country from having to reckon with its own harm-doing, and it’ll turn the responsibility back on these mothers for their loss. And when they ask for help with these pressures, it is rare for such needs to be met.

Black mothers’ uncompromising stance that their tragedies not be taken in vain has shaped much of our history. Till-Mobley’s demand that Emmett’s casket be left open at his funeral propelled the civil-rights movement forward. However, it has grown too heavy for one body to carry a fight that requires us all. It’s time to mother our Black mothers for a change.

Complete Article HERE!

With a Simple Funeral, South Africa Bids Farewell to Desmond Tutu

The archbishop and Nobel laureate left plans for an unostentatious ceremony, which were stripped back further under Covid restrictions.

By Lynsey Chutel

In an almost empty cathedral, with an unvarnished, rope-handled coffin placed before the altar, South Africa said farewell on Saturday to Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu with the simplicity that he had planned.

Archbishop Tutu’s death last Sunday at age 90 was followed by a week of mourning, as the world remembered his powerful role both in opposing apartheid and in promoting unity and reconciliation after its defeat.

But his funeral in a rain-soaked Cape Town, where pandemic regulations limited attendance to 100 and discouraged crowds outside, was far more subdued than the packed stadiums and parade of dignitaries that mourned South Africa’s other Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela. It was exactly what the archbishop had wanted.

A hymn sung in his mother tongue, Setswana; Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum”; and a sermon delivered by an old friend were all part of what Archbishop Tutu designed for his requiem Mass, celebrated at St. George’s Cathedral. There would be no official speeches beyond the eulogy, and the only military presence allowed at the funeral of a man who once said, “I am a man of peace, but not a pacifist,” came when an officer brought South Africa’s national flag to be handed to his widow, Nomalizo Leah Tutu.

The coronavirus pandemic further scaled down proceedings. With a limited guest list, the only international heads of state in attendance had a close relationship with the archbishop, like King Letsie III of Lesotho, who spent time with the Tutu family as a child at a boarding school in England. A former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, read one of the prayers during the requiem Mass. With singing discouraged in closed spaces to reduce the spread of the virus, the choir performed in an adjacent hall.

“Desmond was not on some crusade of personal aggrandizement or egotism,” said the friend who delivered the sermon, Michael Nuttall, who as bishop of Natal in the 1980s and 1990s became known as “Tutu’s No. 2.” He described their relationship, as the first Black archbishop of Cape Town and his white deputy, as a precursor “of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”

Archbishop Tutu “loved to be loved,” though, recalled Bishop Nuttall, and this was the enduring image of the diminutive man in flowing clerical robes: a dynamic leader who joked and scolded with equal gusto.

The activist archbishop was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. Outside South Africa, he campaigned for international sanctions as he preached about the injustices that Black South Africans suffered under the segregationist regime. At home, he presided over dozens of funerals of young activists killed as the country’s townships resembled a war zone in the final years of apartheid.

After the country’s first democratic election in 1994, he led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and christened the “new” South Africa the “rainbow nation” as he tried to shepherd its citizens toward national healing. In the nearly three decades since the end of apartheid, he continued to speak out against the corruption and inequality that sullied that ideal.

“When he first spoke about us as a ‘rainbow nation,’ South Africa was a different place and were going through a very difficult time,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his eulogy. “He has left us at another difficult time in the life of our nation.”

In the week leading up to the funeral, those who were close with Archbishop Tutu said that as he became increasingly frail, they saw a man distressed by South Africa’s enduring social and economic inequality. In the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns have further exacerbated poverty, bringing unemployment to record levels.

Under Covid-19 restrictions, at a public viewing site erected in the Grand Parade, Cape Town’s main public square, barely 100 people gathered to watch the service on a big screen. Those who braved the rain said they wanted to say goodbye to a “great man,” like Laurence and Joslyn Vlotman, who brought an umbrella and small camp stool. But many, like Meg Jordi, sat on the ground.

Michael Jatto, a British national on vacation in South Africa from England, took his two daughters to the square to learn about the archbishop — “for us as Africans, for our children to see a great man being shown in a positive light.”

For many South Africans who attended Christian and interfaith services in the days leading up to the funeral, there was a collective sense that South Africa had lost its moral compass. Some, though, found hope in the renewed focus on Archbishop Tutu’s life and legacy.

“I feel we’ve gained in the way that the country, the government, the church has magnified him and held him up,” said Nikki Lomba, who watched from behind a barrier with her mother, Brita Lomba, as the archbishop’s coffin was driven away in a hearse. “I feel we’ve gained more hope, and at a very pivotal moment learned a lot in his passing.”

Complete Article HERE!

Black-owned hospice seeks to bring greater ease in dying to Black families

André Lee, administrator and co-founder of Heart and Soul Hospice, stands with Keisha Mason, director of nursing, in front of their office building last week in Nashville, Tenn.

By Blake Farmer

This time, it didn’t take much persuading for Mary Murphy to embrace home hospice. When her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s disease in 2020, she had been reluctant until she saw what a help it was. And so when her husband, Willie, neared the end of his life, she embraced hospice again.

The Murphys’ house in a leafy Nashville neighborhood is their happy place — full of their treasures.

“He’s good to me — buys me anything I want,” she says, as she pulls a milky glass vase out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with mirrored shelves.

Willie bought Mary the display case to help her to show off all the trinkets she picks up at estate sales.

Down the hall, Willie lies in their bed, now unable to speak. His heart is giving out.

“You gonna wake up for a minute?” she asks as she cradles his head. She pats his back while he clears his throat. “Cough it out.”

Mary has been the primary caregiver for her husband, but she gets help from a new hospice agency in Nashville that is focused on increasing the use of comfort care at the end of life by Black families. Heart and Soul Hospice is owned and operated by people who share the same cultural background as the patients they’re trying to serve.

In their application to obtain a certificate of need in Tennessee, the hospice owners made it clear that they are Black and that they intend to serve everyone but will focus on African Americans, who are currently underserved. Tennessee data show that in Nashville, just 19% of the hospice patients are Black though they make up 27% of the population.

Though the area already had numerous hospice agencies, regulators granted the permission, based primarily on the value of educating an underserved group.

Hospice care helped Mary and Willie Murphy with a few baths a week, medication in the mail, and any medical equipment they needed. And there was the emotional support from a caring nurse.

In Mary Murphy’s first experience with hospice, her mother had suffered from dementia for decades, yet still when transitioning to hospice came up with her mother, Murphy had many concerns. She felt like she was giving up on her mom.

“My first thought was death,” she says.

National data shows Black Medicare patients and their families are not making the move to comfort care as often as white patients are. Roughly 41% of Black Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2019 were enrolled in hospice, compared with white patients for whom the figure is 54%, according to data compiled annually by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Murphy’s mother survived nearly three years on hospice. The benefit is meant for those in the last six months of life, but predicting when the end will come is difficult, especially with dementia. Hospice provides palliative care for the dying and support for caregivers for a long as the process lasts.

Murphy did most of the caregiving — which can be overwhelming — but hospice helped with a few baths a week, medication in the mail and any medical equipment they needed.

And most important to Murphy was the emotional support, which came mostly from her hospice nurse.

“Wasn’t no doctor going to come here, hold my hand, stay here until the funeral home came for her,” she says about the day her mother died.

This year, on the day after Thanksgiving, Willie Murphy died. And the same hospice nurse was at the Murphy home within minutes. She’d already stopped by that morning to check on him and returned as soon as Mary called and told her he wasn’t breathing.

“If you don’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I have hospice,’ if you can’t say that, then we’re doing something wrong,” says Keisha Mason, who is Heart and Soul’s director of nursing.

Mason, like Murphy, is Black and says that in her view, there’s nothing fundamental keeping Black patients from using hospice except learning what the service can offer and that it’s basically free to patients — paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and most private health plans.

“I say to them, ‘If you see a bill, then call us, because you should not,’ ” she says.

As Mason has helped launch this new hospice agency, she’s begun using new language, calling hospice more than a Medicare benefit. She describes it as an entitlement.

“Just as you are entitled to unemployment, as you are entitled to Social Security, you are entitled to a hospice benefit,” she says.

The investors in Heart and Soul include David Turner, owner of CNS Hospice in Detroit, Nashville pastor the Rev. Sandy McClain, and André Lee, who is a former hospital administrator on the campus of Nashville’s Meharry Medical College, a historically Black institution.

Lee and Turner also started a Black-focused hospice agency in Michigan and have plans to replicate the model in other states.

Lee says more families need to consider home hospice as an alternative for end-of-life care. Nursing homes are pricey. And even with Medicare, a hospital bill could be hefty.

“You’ll go in there and they’ll eat you alive,” he says. “I hate to say [something] bad about hospitals, but it’s true.”

Hospice research hasn’t come up with clear reasons why there’s a gap between white and Black families’ use of the benefit. Some speculate it’s related to spiritual beliefs and widespread mistrust in the medical system due to decades of discrimination.

The hospice industry’s national trade group, the NHCPO, released a diversity and inclusion toolkit and a guide for how to reach more Black patients this year. It recommends connecting with influential DJs and partnering with Black pastors. But also just hiring more Black nurses.

Lee says it’s not overly complicated.

“A lot of hospices don’t employ enough Black people,” he says. “We all feel comfortable when you see someone over there that looks like you.”

Well-established hospice agencies have been attempting to minimize any barriers with their own diversity initiatives. Michelle Drayton of Visiting Nurse Service of New York says her large agency has been meeting with ministers who counsel families dealing with failing health.

“Many of them did not fully understand what hospice was,” she says. “They had many of the same sort of misperceptions.”

Whether it’s an upstart hospice company or one of the oldest in the country, everyone still has a lot of end-of-life educating to do to bridge the racial gap, Drayton says. “We’re not just handing out a brochure,” she adds.

Complete Article HERE!

How unresolved grief could haunt children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID

The number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 has surpassed 775,000. But left behind are tens of thousands of children — some orphaned entirely — after their parents or a grandparent who cared for them died. In this report co-produced with the NewsHour, Kaiser Health News correspondent Sarah Varney looks at the risks these grieving children face to their well-being, both in the short and long term.

Death Has Many Names

Not a day goes by that speakers of the Yoruba language do not make mention of death as both a phenomenon and a certainty.

Jacob Kehinde Olupona

By George Yancy

This month’s conversation in our series exploring religion and death is with Jacob Kehinde Olupona, a professor of African religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of “City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination” and “African Religions: A Very Short Introduction.” In this discussion we focused on the religious tradition of the Yoruba people. Previous interviews in this series — with scholars from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Jain, Taoist and atheist traditions — can be found here. George Yancy

George Yancy: Here in the West, where a few monotheistic religions dominate the culture, knowledge and understanding of Indigenous African religious practices is rare. Is Yoruba monotheistic or polytheistic? Or is it something else entirely?

Jacob Kehinde Olupona: Yoruba religion manifests elements of both. It differs from many world religions that define their cosmology primarily in theistic terms. Yoruba religion focuses on the lived religious experience of the people rather than on systematized beliefs and creeds as we see in other world religions such as Islam and Christianity. Yoruba religious traditions are woven around oral traditions and practices. The spiritual realm exists parallel to the human realm and it accommodates the Supreme Being, gods, ancestors and minor spiritual entities who interact with the human realm at different levels.

Central to the Yoruba religious worldview is the notion of (Ase), which Rowland Abiodun has characterized as “the empowered word that must come to pass,” “life force” and “energy” that regulates all movement and activity in the universe. Religious activities are mostly communal and are guided by specialists, custodians and leaders of the traditions: sacred kings, diviners, priests, priestesses and healers, all of whom are integral to maintaining the balance in the cosmos.

The Yoruba conceive the world as two halves of a gourd — the one we live in and the one where the deities and ancestors live. In between these two spheres, there are forces, mainly malevolent in nature (ajogun, or warriors), as Wande Abimbola calls them, who must be constantly placated, sometimes with sacrifices, to prevent them from wreaking havoc on earth. In short, human devotional practices play a central role in regulating the activities of ajogun and in keeping the Yoruba universe in equilibrium.

Yancy: In the West, Indigenous African religions are often dismissed as “primitive” or “superstitious” by those who don’t know them. Can you give readers unfamiliar with African religious traditions some sense of the history and complexity of the Yoruba people and their culture?

Olupona: The Yoruba people, who live primarily in southwest Nigeria, are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. Yoruba people are also found in the Republic of Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone and several other countries. As a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, between the 16th and 19th centuries, a large number of Yoruba were taken to the Caribbean, North America and South America, where they had significant influence on the culture and religion of the New World.

Yancy: So in some sense, influences of Yoruba culture and sensibility are already here in the West, and have been for centuries. What about the main population in Nigeria?

Olupona: The origin of the Yoruba in Nigeria is slightly more complex. According to the Yoruba origin myth, the world was created in the sacred city of Ilé-Ifè, where the Yoruba civilization blossomed in the ninth century and grew to become one of the largest empires in West Africa. While the Yoruba Empire Oyo is now acknowledged as the source of the standard and contemporary Yoruba language, culture and value system, it is to Ilé-Ifè (the ancient and sacred city of the Yoruba) that scholars now believe all other Yoruba settlements owe their unrivaled urban culture and robust cosmopolitan city states. Other origin myths allude to Yoruba migration from distant places to their current homes, but that has not been substantiated by archaeology or in the Yoruba culture more broadly.

Yancy: How do Yoruba believers think about the reality and meaning of death?

Olupona: Death as a palpable force looms large in the Yoruba religious and social consciousness. From cosmology to various ritual practices and genres of oral traditions such as proverbs, poetry and short stories are all brought to bear on the reality of death. Not a day goes by that speakers of the Yoruba language do not make mention of death as both a phenomenon and a certainty.

Among the Owo Yoruba people, Iku (death) is likened to the hippopotamus (eyinmi/erinmi), whose heavy weight no person can carry and whose presence one cannot run or escape from. This conveys the dilemma of a bereaved child who can neither carry the body of a deceased parent nor is courageous enough to abandon it, highlighting the helplessness of one when confronted by death.

In Yoruba folk tales, death is also portrayed as an old haggard man who carries a heavy club with which he kills his victims. No one is spared. The young, the old, kings, chiefs, commoners and the rich can all be his victims. It is assumed that at creation, and before individuals leave Orun (the otherworld), the preconscious mind is made aware of when death will strike in Aiye (this world), and when they will return to Orun. The appointed date, however, is never known.

Yancy: According to Yoruba, should human beings embrace death? And if so, how or why?

Olupona: It is assumed that death doesn’t end a person’s life, but instead marks a passage from one realm of existence to the next. Hence, the Yoruba believe there is an afterlife (or an “afterdeath”) in which the living dead exist as part of the sacred cosmos.

There is also an ambiguous response to death, depending on the circumstances surrounding the event. Death in very old age, for example, is welcomed as a fulfillment of one of the cardinal life quests. This form of death is celebrated by the community as a necessary transition to the ancestral world. On the other hand, deaths that occur in infancy, childhood or young adulthood are frowned upon and not often celebrated, because the deceased was yet to accomplish his or her mission on earth.

Deaths involving unnatural causes fall into the same category. It is by tradition a taboo for older people to participate in young people’s funerals, to ward off the malicious knell of death. This is also because the death of a younger person is considered “bad death,” not worth celebrating by the elderly. It is a taboo for kings (Oba) to witness funeral celebrations or behold a dead body.

Yancy: Is there an account within Yoruba that explains why we fear death?

Olupona: Absolutely. Yoruba personal names reveal a lot about why they fear death. Consider the following: Ikubamije, “Death has ruined me”; Ikubileje, “Death has wreaked havoc on our family”; Ikugbeye, “Death has taken away our dignity”; Ikumone, “Death is no respecter of persons”; Ikumofin, “Death does not recognize any law”; Ikupakin, “Death has killed the hero”; Ikupelero, “Death has killed a socialite”; Ikusika, “Death has committed acts of wickedness,” and so on.

The dead must also be called upon to avenge his or her own wrongful death. My maternal grandmother once told me a story of a great-uncle who was murdered on my grandfather’s farm while he was working and whose body was brought home for burial rites. My grandfather, being a devout Christian, was opposed to the rituals of “oku riro,” preferring to leave everything to God. Somehow, before the seventh day of the burial, the deceased avenged his own death by pursuing the murderer in his sleep. The murderer was said to have suddenly woken up from his sleep screaming as the deceased spirit “chased” him. Not long after, the murderer was reported to have collapsed and died!

Yancy: Are there specific circumstances under which we should fear death, according to Yoruba?

Olupona: Yes, especially when deaths are unusually frequent or inexplicable. The Yoruba are accustomed to finding causes of death and ensuring their non-recurrence. For example, they fear death of children known as “abiku” who are associated with “spirit children.”

These are children who are reincarnated to be reborn and die no matter what. These children are stuck in a perpetual cycle that prevents them from growing into adulthood. Death of spirit children defies the Yoruba mind so much so that abiku are said to confound even the most knowledgeable medicine men and women.

They also fear death that occurs in mysterious circumstances such as when a couple dies the day after their wedding, a very experienced swimmer drowns and dies, a ruler dies shortly after ascending the throne, a perfectly healthy individual dies suddenly without any apparent signs of sickness, or all of one’s children or siblings dying on the same day, even though they are all located in different places. All of these examples make one reflect on the significance of Yoruba personal names like Ikudefu, “Death has become a wind”; Ikuosunwon, “Death is not nice”; and Ikujaiyesimi, “O Death, let the community have a breathing space” and Ikudabo, “O Death, please stop.”

Yancy: Is there a relationship between how we live our lives here on earth and what happens after we die?

Olupona: In traditional Yoruba cosmology, there seems to be no explicit reference to final judgment as in Islam and Christianity; humans are enjoined to do well in life so that when death eventually comes, one can be remembered for one’s good deeds. One’s character may be measured in terms of virtue and vice, or in deeds that are worthy of reward. For the Yoruba, this is the core essence of religion.

For example, a prosperous and successful individual can be said to be reaping the good deeds of his/her deceased parents during their lifetime. Likewise, an individual who suffers may be said to be reaping the bad deeds of his or her deceased parents. So, it is assumed that the descendants of a wicked individual may live to reap the punishment meant for his/her parents. Yoruba religion shares this idea with Christianity as in the account of a worthy man of note in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 44.

Yancy: How do the Yoruba let go and grieve those who have died?

Olupona: The Yoruba spend an awful lot of time and energy on burying their dead. It is assumed that a “proper” burial is required, not only to ensure the deceased’s peaceful transition to the world of the ancestors, but to ensure that those of the living are not affected by death’s visit. Burial ceremonies and rituals may take up to an entire week and involve the deceased extended and immediate family, their lineage and clan, residents of their town and ultimately the whole community.

In certain places, it is also assumed that the dead must be encouraged to depart quickly and visit the open market (Oja) where they may make appearances as spirits. Among the Owo Yoruba people, it is believed that the dead, through a journey back home, must first return to the sacred city of Yoruba creation, Ilé-Ifè, on their way to the ancestral realm.

In the Owo Yoruba tradition, where age groups are well established, burial rituals and ceremonies are taken seriously. The members of these age groups are responsible for digging the graves of their peers or their peer’s parents who have passed on to ensure that they are properly buried. Hence, the Yoruba would say, “Eni gbele lo sinku, eni sunkun ariwo lo pa.” Literally — “It is the gravediggers who are the real mourners; relations who shed tears are merely making loud noises.”

Complete Article HERE!

Society’s End-of-Life Problem

Americans have unequal access to the benefits of advance care planning

By Mara Buchbinder

As COVID-19 death tolls mount rapidly, palliative care experts have urged Americans to have difficult conversations with loved ones about our end-of-life wishes. With death all around us, they have argued, it is now more urgent than ever that we plan for our deaths.

But in addition to having “the conversation” about end-of-life wishes, we should also grapple with deeper societal questions about who gets the privilege to plan.

It may sound perverse to suggest that a cancer diagnosis could be a fortunate event, but cancer compels people to anticipate death in a way that many never will. Most people will never have the opportunity to choose when, where and how they die because death comes unexpectedly, or the circumstances impede planning. If anything, my research on the desire for control at the end of life has taught me that death, all too often, ignores our plans.

But planning has nevertheless been a prominent focus of nationwide public health efforts to improve end-of-life care over the past several decades. Advance care planning is a broad term that encompasses talking with loved ones and health care providers, appointing a surrogate decision maker and recording end-of-life preferences in writing. Advance care planning enables people to legally document their wishes—for example, to avoid life-prolonging treatment if one is unlikely to survive or to attain a certain quality of life—in case they become incapacitated.

Such planning is particularly important for COVID-19 because of the vital use of mechanical ventilation among the sickest patients. Contemplating decisions about life-prolonging treatment in advance takes on heightened importance in a climate in which critical care resources are scarce and in which intubation puts health care workers at increased risk for contracting the virus themselves.

Americans do not engage equitably in planning for the end of life, however. Black Americans consistently utilize less advance care planning than white Americans. The reasons for this include worse access to medical care, especially culturally sensitive medical care; religious beliefs and cultural values that favor leaving decisions to God; and mistrust in medicine rooted in historical legacies of mistreatment, experimentation, and racism. Yet without the benefit of planning, Black Americans are less likely to receive care consistent with their preferences.

These inequities are all the more painful in a year in which police brutality and anti-Black violence brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of public consciousness. The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and many other Black Americans highlight not only a foreclosed opportunity to engage with death as an object of anticipation and planning, but also, more fundamentally, a systemic failure of white Americans to acknowledge and uphold the value of Black lives. When the system has failed and shortened Black lives at every step, can we blame Black Americans for a reluctance to engage with the very same system to plan for death? From this perspective, advance care planning may seem tantamount to acquiescence.

This is not to deny that advance care planning and communication with loved ones are important and useful goals for all Americans, regardless of race or age. I teach a seminar for second year medical students on Death and Dying in America, in which I ask them to interview a partner or family member about their end-of-life wishes. I don’t want my students—many of whom have never experienced the death of a loved one—to confront the discomfort of speaking with patients about death before having done so at home. This year’s exercise was particularly poignant, as several students had family members in ICUs, or working on the pandemic’s frontlines.

But I also ask my students to think critically about who gets the privilege of planning: to examine the cultural values that underlie the expectation for choice at the end of life and confront racial inequities in advance care planning. When we advocate for more conversations about death and dying, let’s make sure that a piece of this conversation is facing the tough questions about who among us will get to plan and choose.

Complete Article HERE!

The Virus Is Showing Black People What They Knew All Along

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate by race, yet it has still laid bare the brutality of racism in the United States

By Patrice Peck

All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk, but as Black people in America, we still feel a connection with one another. A reciprocated smile as we pass one another on the street; a spontaneous, but still synchronized, “Swag Surfin’” dip at the club; a “Cupid Shuffle” kick at the cookout. Small moments like these reinforce the bond I feel with other Black people. But these days, as I quarantine at home, the Black faces sparking that sense of familiarity are not nodding in solidarity or swaying in unison. They stare back, frozen in photographs accompanying obituaries that announce yet another Black life lost to the coronavirus. I do not know these people. I am not even one of the 31 percent of Black people in America who personally knows someone who has died of COVID-19. But in these faces I see my loved ones. I see myself.

I thought of these obituaries last week, when the United States passed yet another grim pandemic milestone. More than 50,000 Black Americans are now dead from COVID-19, according to data from the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. (And even that number is likely an undercount: We don’t know the race or ethnicity for roughly 20,000 of the 319,000 Americans whose lives have been claimed by COVID-19.) Everyone in the U.S. is at the mercy of the coronavirus; it doesn’t discriminate by race or class or gender or age. And yet, from the very beginning of the pandemic, the virus has exposed and targeted all of the disparities that come along with being Black in America. We are dying at 1.7 times the rate of white people from this virus, which means that the toll of these disparities has never been easier to quantify: 19,000 Black people would still be alive if not for systemic racism.

For centuries, Black people have spoken about the struggles we face, pointing to root causes like poverty, housing segregation, unemployment, and environmental degradation. And for centuries, those concerns have largely gone ignored. The same thing has happened with the pandemic. Long before any data confirmed our worst fears, Black people knew that the coronavirus would disproportionately devastate our already vulnerable communities. Driven by that foresight, I launched a newsletter, Coronavirus News for Black Folks, in early April. As the death toll crept up and up, the brutality of American racism became even clearer. Black people with clear symptoms of COVID-19 were turned away from receiving tests, sometimes on multiple occasions, only to die at home. Black families were entirely destroyed as members died within weeks and days of one another. By the end of July, twice as many Black children as white children had died of COVID-19: In Michigan, the first child to die from the virus was a 5-year-old Black girl who spent two weeks on a ventilator.

While a large swath of Americans, myself included, are able to safely stay at home, Black people are disproportionately essential workers, who have no choice but to brave the pandemic and head to work. Many have lost their lives working jobs they felt were unsafe and underpaid. “Our white executive director has not been in the office for the past six weeks, has not asked how any of us are holding up, and has not emailed us to say thank you,” a 20-something security guard told me in April. “I feel betrayed. I used to love my position and the people I work with. Now I’m resentful of the protection some people are afforded while others, like myself, are sent out to the front lines.” (The security guard was granted anonymity for fear of professional reprisal.)

As if the havoc wreaked by the virus weren’t already bad enough, the racial disparities will persist as the U.S. works its way out of the pandemic. Just as one in three Black people knows someone directly who has died from COVID-19, one in three Black people has said they will not get the vaccine, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. Clinical trials have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective, but a long-standing mistrust in America’s predominantly white medical institutions is only deepening, and so the number of Black lives lost to this virus will continue to rise, even though we now have a way to end it.

Thankfully, moments of Black kinship still emerge even during all the suffering. The same week that marked more than 50,000 Black deaths saw a horizon of hope. Sandra Lindsay, a Jamaican-born nurse in Queens, New York, became the first person to be vaccinated in the United States, after receiving the shot from Michelle Chester, also a Black woman. Even a pandemic can’t break the resilient bond of Black America.

Complete Article HERE!