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 of 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.