Black students battle racism, Covid-19

(News4usonline) – The great race divide has always been here in the United States. The country’s greatest sin, slavery, illustrates how separate the nation has been. From slavery to Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era to the (Barack) Obama years, race and the issue of race, have been paramount to the survival of African Americans in this country. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of race could not have been more magnified. The killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery and other Black men and women put the matter in the forefront as millions of Americans tried to cope with how to live through the pandemic. 

Demonstrators take to the streets in downtown Los Angeles to protest the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor June 3, 2020. Both Floyd and Taylor died at the hands of police. Taylor was killed March 13. Floyd lost his life on May 25. Four police officers have been charged in Floyd’s death which was caught on video. As of July 31, 2020, there have been no charges brought against the police officers involved in the shooting death of Taylor. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

In 2020, when Covid-19 officially isolated Americans into their homes, the brash shooting deaths of Taylor and Floyd by police sent a chill down most people’s backs. Taylor was murdered by gunshot while sleeping in her home with her boyfriend. 

Floyd’s death was recorded by a Black adolescent using her cellphone to show the world how the Minnesota man had his life senselessly snuffed out by law enforcement over $20. The phrase “I can’t breathe,” words that Floyd uttered before his life was choked out of him, now resonate differently in the Black community. 

The unfathomable murder of Arbery, a young Black man who fell into the deadly hands of several white supremacists while jogging in Georgia, reminded America that racism and blatant hatred for Black people by some is still a stain on the nation’s consciousness. It is this kind of racial animosity that Black Americans have had to deal and live with for centuries. 

The murder of Floyd seemed to be the last straw as millions of Americans, at the height of the pandemic, hit the streets daily, to protest the unequal treatment Blacks continue to wrestle with law enforcement or by hate groups. 

The open demonstrations by all ethnic groups to these racial acts only scratched the surface when it came to addressing racial intolerance during the pandemic. All of these events have had a heavy influence on Black students and their families. 

According to a 2021 report put out by the Black Education Research Collective (BERC), an effort spearheaded by the Teachers College at Columbia University, the combination of the murders of Taylor and Floyd by white racial violence along with Covid-19, triggered a deep emotional wound for Black Americans, especially having a profound impact on Black students. 

According to the BERC, 91 percent of the people surveyed in its report said that they saw themselves as being negatively impacted by the rise of white nationalism and police violence. And 93 percent said that they were deeply concerned about the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol and the increased visibility of white supremacy. 

One Black student surveyed in the report talked about what it’s been like to navigate the pandemic and at the same time trying to battle the increased racial violence he sees. 

“I feel like I’ve lost a lot of people, of course, due to COVID,” the unnamed student said. “Parts of me feels like I lost a little piece of the sanity especially during COVID and having to grapple with people you know dying of a disease and then just the craziness of seeing other Black people being slaughtered down your Instagram timeline. I feel like I’ve become desensitized to people dying in my personal life, and then like there is now just, I think anger and sadness comes from those things. And I don’t know how to describe that, but I just feel like I’ve lost.”       

A march and rally in downtown Los Angeles, California on June 2, 2020, was held by the Baptist Ministers Conference. Members of the clergy and the Baptist Ministers Conference came out to protest police brutality and show solidarity behind a Black Lives Matter movement to hold police and law enforcement agencies more accountable for their actions. Demonstrators came out to also protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died in police custody on May 25, 2020. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out with their own report about the matter of race and racism during the pandemic. According to a report that came out in April 2022, the CDC states that 35.6 percent of high school students polled said they’re dealing with perceived racism. For Black high school students surveyed, the numbers jump through the roof to over 55 (55.2) percent. Multiracial students (54.5 percent) are right there with their Black brethren in this struggle.   

With the weight of fighting an onslaught of racism during the pandemic and trying to stay up to speed academically, this has weighed heavily on Black students mentally. According to the same CDC report, for Black students who reported experiencing some form of racism, 62 percent of them are dealing with poor mental health. 

“Racial discrimination in educational settings contributes to racial disparities in academic achievement and educational attainment, which are important markers for long-term health outcomes,” according to the CDC. “Understanding experiences of racism and racial discrimination among adolescents and how those experiences influence health is important to promote equitable health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority youths. To understand the effects of racism on health, well-defined, consistent definitions and reliable measures of racial discrimination are critical.”

A protester holds up an artistic likeness of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Los Angeles, California, on June 3, 2020. The protest was part of nationwide and global unrest in wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others who have died in police custody. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

The BERC attempts to address these issues by coming up with key findings in their report. 

Covid-19 has had a traumatic impact on Black students, their families and their communities. The study also revealed that racial trauma affected teaching and Black students’ ability to learn. The report also concluded that the education system is not equipped to handle the social, emotional and learning needs of Black students. 

The trust factor comes into play as well. As a result of police brutality, the initial failed responses to Covid-19 and the insurrection that took place in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trust in schools and public institutions have eroded for Black Americans, the BERC states. 

The findings conclude with the announcement that education leaders and those who write up policies should be held more accountable to meet the academic needs of Black students. The racism part has come in different waves for Black students. The online learning curve has been difficult to navigate.

 Then there is the matter of having internet or broadband connection at home, which many with lower incomes struggled during the pandemic, thus creating a racial academic or learning gap between students.  

Black education as the BERC defines it is “we define Black education as the “systematic efforts to teach Black children” and “the quality of education the African American community has historically organized itself around while considering issues of cultural responsibility and community political empowerment.”