Our collective action can make a positive difference; we are here to make the voiceless heard.

Date: 15 June, 2020  | Organisation: Christian Aid 

The UK government recently published data showing that a disproportionate number of black and ethnic ‘minority’ communities are dying as a result of Covid-19, because those communities are disproportionately on the front lines of responding to the crisis, and because of underlying health inequalities. But we know from our work at Christian Aid that racial injustice doesn’t start and stop with Covid-19, or indeed health in general.

In fact, climate change also disproportionately affects BAME communities in both the UK and the Global South. We cannot continue  ignore the number of deaths and unheard voices of people of colour affected by these pertinent, intersectional issues. Standing together to speak truth to power on these issues is important because our survival depends on it.

As Christian Aid’s Church Programme Manager for Black Majority Churches, I know that we have a responsibility to stand together and to speak truth to power on all issues of racial injustice.

The harsh reality is that Covid-19 and climate change are affecting ethnic minority communities around the world in unequal ways.  As people of colour, we live in the most deprived areas in the UK and the global south. Our families are confined to overcrowded living conditions where self-isolation is a luxury. Those on low incomes have no choice but to work on the front lines, often in unsafe conditions, risking their lives to feed their families for less than the living wage. In our cities, BAME communities are often worst affected by air pollution. According to Christian Aid’s upcoming global recovery policy document, long standing associations between poverty and ill health also increases the likelihood that the poor will become gravely ill or die once infected with the virus.

For example, black and brown people in Brazil have a higher mortality rate of 55% compared to their white counterparts’ mortality rate of 38%. In the global south the need for social distancing also poses challenges especially for the one billion people who live in slum-like, unsanitary conditions. The report also highlights that these patterns are not random and reflect the impact of years of racial discrimination that has embedded significant social and economics inequalities affecting certain communities’ ability to survive. Put simply, in both the climate crisis and the coronavirus crisis, the likelihood of death is drawn up on racial lines; and we cannot sit back and watch that anymore, as the Black Lives Matter protests have shown us.

We are living in unprecedented times where compassion is needed more than ever. A time for solidarity to prevent more deaths and heal the heartache and fear caused by this pandemic. No one is immune and failure to take an intersectional approach to address these issues could result in putting many more lives at greater risk.

At the heart of human connection is empathy. Empathy seeks to understand and starts with what is it like to be you, what are you struggling with and what do we care about doing together? As the slogan for Christian Aid Week 2020 said, “love, and especially God’s love, unites us all”.

We all have common needs even if they are experienced differently. Irrespective of our race or background, we all deserve clean air, water, food, shelter, sanitation, hygiene and opportunities to safely earn a decent wage to increase our quality of life. We all yearn to be listened to, supported, valued and more importantly protected. This is something our brothers and sisters in the Global South cry for daily. For them this isn’t a nice ideal to strive for: it’s a matter of life and death. Many cannot afford access to essential health and social care services in their countries and even if they could, the right support is not available to keep them safe and well.

Over consumption of resources and wanting more than we need in the Global North is creating disposable societies and communities. Covid-19 is wiping out families at an alarming rate and will continue if urgent actions to protect poor communities are not taken.

As people of colour we have deep connections to our home countries, almost all of which are currently affected by Covid-19 and climate change. As people of faith we are called to uphold justice where we can. Our diverse voices and experiences are poorly represented from conversations and the global movement at large.

We should never underestimate the power of our voice and collective action. Historically, Christian Aid supported the civil rights movement in the 60s, the anti-apartheid movement in the 80s and 90s, and the debt cancellations at the turn of this century. Lending our voice and activism can help create the change to either save lives. Let us stand together today to demand a scale-up of spending on health and social care services to ensure all communities receive timely public health information and accessible treatment including those living in poorest and remote parts of the world. Our collective action can make a positive difference; we are here to make the voiceless heard.

Sarah-Jane Nii-Adjei is Climate Justice Programme Manager for Christian Aid.