Coronavirus: Why It Is Not A Great Equalizer The picture captures two blocks with a person on it: one person standing on a tall block and the second standing on a short block depicting inequality.

Coronavirus: Why It Is Not A Great Equalizer

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the pandemic is not a social equaliser. Looking at the current situation with an intersectional lens will make clear that minorities and especially black communities face layered difficulties and issues that are not immediately visible.

As you might have heard, the current pandemic has been coined as ‘the great equalizer’,[1] in an attempt to showcase that everyone can be infected by the Coronavirus. The crisis has brought to light acts of solidarity and furthermore highlighted the importance of essential workers, all while there is a growing discrepancy in the extent that different societal groups are affected. Though the virus itself is blind to social circumstances, the varying outcomes it creates as it intersects with these pre-existing differences cannot be ignored. Though the long-term effects of the pandemic are still to be studied, global media outlets and research report that people of color and especially black people are disproportionately hit. From the mistreatment by the Chinese government[2] to persistent racism in health care systems in nations such as the UK[3], the USA[4] or Brazil[5], black people are used as scapegoats or falling through the cracks of systems that are supposed to help them. We are not all in the same boat, and therefore, it is relevant to take the race factor into account to get a full picture of the effects of the pandemic on people across society.

The differences in experiences during this time are especially clear when talking to the (board) members of the Afro Student Association (ASA). We are based in The Hague, and cater to the needs of black students within the academic sphere and off campus. We have closely worked with and have been supported by Leiden University’s Diversity Office. From conversations with ASA members, it becomes clear that black students in our community face layered difficulties and issues that are not immediately visible. Firstly, most members come from collectivist communities in which taking care of family members is an integral part of their culture, a custom that ultimately does not align with the recently required social distancing measures. This often triggers worries of possibly transferring the virus to grandparents and other older family members. Secondly, black students (among some other groups) have had to deal with financial issues, as a result of having lost jobs they relied on to pay for housing and tuition fees. This has left some international students unable to return to their homes and now stuck in The Hague or Leiden. Circumstances like these can naturally contribute to anxiety caused by isolation. On the other hand, some have arrived in their home countries but do not have the means to return to The Hague and move out of their living arrangements. These students are faced with paying (sometimes double) rent without any form of income. Certainly, all of these realities can have real effects for the progression of these students’ studies.

As there is a need for policies which address the unforeseen and increased challenges black students at LU face during and beyond this crisis, ASA is in close contact with LU Diversity Office to work towards solutions. Moreover, ASA continues to pursue its aim to maintain a sense of community online, by organising and creating different events. We started the social distancing period with a workout live stream on our Instagram page to encourage our members to stay active. Also, we have teamed up with several local black artists and organised creative collaborations to showcase their art on our platforms. Artists and creatives form a group of workers that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, so therefore we made it a point to support them. Lastly, during these trying times we have chosen to create a podcast where we continue our mission to promote inclusivity and empowerment of our community. ‘Quarantine Tingz’ is a playfully light podcast to entertain our listeners, where we talk about topics pertaining to the experience of black students, such as relationships, family, student life, pop culture and many more. Every Sunday we air a new episode on Soundcloud.

All in all, in these times it is of great significance to take into account students’ socio-political identities — such as class and race — in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of the pandemic on students of all backgrounds. Especially in the Dutch context, an analysis addressing pre-existing inequalities is required as such research is insufficient.

[1] Bloomberg Quicktake, “Cuomo Calls Coronavirus the ‘Great Equalizer’ After Brother Chris Cuomo Tests Positive,” uploaded March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f0Tp_KBJ2w.

[2] Jenni Marsh, Shawn Deng and Nectar Gan, “Africans in Guangzhou are on edge,” CNN, April 13, 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/10/china/africans-guangzhou-china-coronavirus-hnk-intl/index.html.

[3] Sandra Laville, “London woman dies of suspected Covid-19 after being told she was ‘not priority’,” The Guardian, March 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/london-woman-36-dies-of-suspected-covid-19-after-being-told-she-is-not-priority.

[4] Alexandra Villarreal, “New York mother dies after raising alarm on hospital neglect,” The Guardian, May 2, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/02/amber-rose-isaac-new-york-childbirth-death.

[5] Caio Barretto Briso and Tom Phillips, “Rio’s favelas count the cost as deadly spread of Covid-19 hits city’s poor,” The Guardian, April 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/25/rio-favelas-coronavirus-brazil.