I, Too, Am America: Adjusting to the corona crisis as a Black Essential Worker

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Working class Americans seem to be victimized thrice over by COVID-19. From states reopening prematurely to unsafe working conditions that have led essential workers to strike, the damage is almost tangible.

the bottom line

As essential workers prioritize mental health, big businesses and public officials seem to be prioritizing bottom lines. In Georgia, “public health officials reported over 1,000 new Covid-19 cases on Friday [April 24],” wrote Kayla Goggin for Courthouse News. This was after Georgia’s Governor, Brian Kemp, re-opened the state, a controversial move.

In response to the re-opening, Kevin Powell wrote an opinion piece for BET.com where he said, “This is outrageous. It is inhumane, dangerous, and dancing with death.”

He later added, “This is Georgia…where insane racism blends with sheer stupidity and White nationalism at the expense of the rest of us.” Powell was among many who found Kemp’s actions discriminatory.  

Writing for News One, Royce Dunmore noted that, “Black people are suffering gravely from the coronavirus pandemic [so] people are calling [Kemp] out even more for his disregard for Black life.” 

Yet, Kemp is not the only politician to draw public ire for his response to the virus.

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A heat map produced by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine shows that Georgia is still a hot bed for the virus. (SCREENSHOT: Official website)
Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot caught flak when she told stay-at-home violators, “You are going to jail. Period.” According to the New York Times, Cook County Department of Corrections is a“hotbed” of the virus among U.S. jails.

So, threatening to jail violators is threatening to expose them to the virus,  wrote blogger Stephanie Greene on Twitter. “These mfs love to kill ppl and call it the law,” she tweeted.

Really, the damage of this current pandemic is heightened by its preexisting conditions: lack of care for Black people that perpetuates lack of care for Black essential workers.

A video by Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot urging city residents to stay home.
A video by Rwebel Media in response to Mayor Lightfoot’s video.

the picket line

“In the United States, the face of our essential workforce is overwhelmingly black with research showing that black folks are more likely to be considered essential workers than their racial and ethnic counterparts,” wrote Jessica Moulite, a video producer for The Root.

In a visual story for outlet, Moulite interviewed three Black essential workers from L.A. about their experiences. “I was very fearful of contracting the virus in the very beginning, especially when I found out that two co-workers had tested positive in the store…I thought that they didn’t take our health into consideration,” said Pam Hill, a cashier at a Los Angeles grocery store.

Having worked in a grocery store at the height of the crisis, I would argue that there is more to be done to protect Black essential workers who are battling the lovechild of racism and capitalism.

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A screenshot shot of FAQs for Amazon’s healthcare policy. (SCREENSHOT: Amazon Health Resources Employee Portal)

Specifically in my case, health benefits need to be reviewed. I previously worked as a fulfilment associate (a fancy name for grocery shopper) for Amazon Prime LLC.

Their current policy is that part-time workers who work an average of forty hours a week for eleven months are eligible for healthcare. This would mean putting in a full work week for almost a year before being eligible for benefits.

That would be frowned upon before the pandemic. During these trying times, this is violent. Nonetheless, there are backdoor ways that companies like Amazon avoid backlash. Remember that saying that legality does not determine morality? Well, that becomes relevant here.

“Employers are not required to provide health insurance to employees that work, on average, less than 30 hours per week,” says Amazon’s health marketplace tool. This is because these employees are only considered part time.

Yet, for Amazon’s fulfillment associates, part time roles are the ones most readily available, with minimum working hours being fifteen hours a month. This is an incentive for college students who need a low stress job to do with school (which is how I started).

When I finished school and began transitioning careers, the stakes changed. I realized that they were not being thoughtful by allowing me to work just four hours a month to keep my job. Instead, Amazon was easily getting away with not protecting its workers health; I had this epiphany during the pandemic.

Every day, we came in to new rules, and then they started sending out text messages about confirmed cases. The working conditions became so strenuous on my mental health that I was hospitalized. Then, my first day out, I got a text about another confirmed case – and this one was on the site that I frequently worked at. Add that with the lack of healthcare should I have contracted the virus, and you now have the conditions to quit.

Although our work
is essential,
our overall wellbeing
is not.

Although I left for the sake of my sanity, I understand why people stay; now is about the worst time to be unemployed, which is why the mass strikes going on make total sense. For front line workers, our work is essential, but our overall wellbeing does not seem to be.
Much of the essential workforce remains unprotected in the middle of a global pandemic, and they have taken a stand. If we cannot get basic rights, customers will not get their groceries, and that’s the bottom line. Big businesses have constantly shown us their bottom line, and this time, we responded with ours. ~ℝ

Javanna plummer, RWebel in Chief

Javanna is the editor of “Rwebel Magazine,” the architect behind “Rwebel Radio,” and the pioneering force of “Xscape.” Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.


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​Thanks for reading! To continue engaging with this topic, be sure to check out these great companion pieces. And don’t forget to leave a comment

Having a mental health crisis during a global health crisis

​On April 16, 2020, President Donald Trump released a three phase plan on how we could re-open America amid the devastation of COVID-19, according to Politico.

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