Working Toward Equality in Life & Death

After my mum died, my seven siblings and I went to the local pub to celebrate mum. We were telling stories about her and sharing our collective grief over a pint or two when a drunk skinhead started to make fun, as they enjoyed a meal, of my brother and his wife.

Thankfully, my tallest brother Steve stood up, then another and another — and soon the skinhead’s friends were pulling him away, realizing they were outnumbered. We laugh now when we reflect, but it is sad to realize that my mother’s death is intertwined with this incident in my memory.

My personal story also illustrates how racism doesn’t wait for a good time for an ugly intrusion. It is with us in life and follows us toward death.

Writer Tiara Darnell, in a recent piece in Portland Monthly (“Can White Portland’s Fragility Handle a Megaquake?”) explains how systemic racism (“conscious and unconscious anti-Blackness”) touches every aspect of Black lives:

“It’s the taproot from which glaring disparities in education, employment, mass incarceration, housing, nutrition, maternal care, COVID-19 and other health outcomes, all spring.”

When people think about what a “good death” is, they often imagine a “white death,” says Alua Arthur of Going with Grace. Arthur recently moderated a Zoom panel discussion with five other Black leaders in the death and dying space. You can listen to the entire conversation here (free registration required). During the talk, Arthur said the “stress of being Black” and institutionalized racism makes a “good death” impossible for too many.

Earlier this month, Rachele Louis, the Black founder and COO of LifeWeb360, explained that grief “hits different” when lives are taken prematurely.

“When the wound of grief is opened it pulls in every instance of loss. The loss of life, liberty, and happiness due to systemic racism. The staggering loss due to Covid-19 within the black community is just another marker. The grief runneth over,” Louis wrote.

LifeWeb360 has created a memorial “web” for George Floyd, filled with art, articles and memories. Louis explains it is “on us” to remember Floyd because he was unable to “finish his story.”

As the Atlantic, Vox and Mother Jones explain, the dual crisis of the economy and COVID, combined with centuries of racism, have left the Black community weary and grieving. And, because racism is a public health crisis, Black mortality rates are only expected to rise.

And, as the Conversation Project’s Naomi Fedna shared, the higher maternal mortality rate of Black women is not just a number to her or her family.

Our friends at Cake have put together a list of resources to help illustrate the disparities facing Black Americans and the unique toll of grief on the community.

While there is plenty of grief, there is also healing. Ethel’s Club, once a social club and wellness center, has gone virtual and seen an overwhelming response. And Black-focused mental health support resources are being widely shared in both traditional and social media.

If you’d like to help the Black community, here are 18 ways no matter where you live, Portland-centered suggestions and Seattle business you can support.

We agree with the Conversation Project’s Kate DeBartolo when she says, “We must work to dismantle systemic racism in our hearts, homes, and communities – now and moving forward.”

Photo by mana5280

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