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FOR MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN GEORGIA, THE FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL INTENSIFIES

In Georgia, stay-at-home orders are quickly coming to an end, but the conditions which led us to being quarantined are not.

Governor Kemp recently signed an executive order to reopen a number of businesses in Georgia. In that executive order, he names that while few businesses are open now, the majority of them are set to be opened on May 31. Businesses will have to adhere to a very long list of requirements to reopen, and the “medically fragile” and “Georgians over 65” will remain in-home through June 12. Overwhelmingly, however, data comprised across the country—and across the globe—says that Black people are dying at disproportionate rates to COVID-19.

I live in Atlanta. It is known as one of the Blackest cities in the country. And that is true; at least for now, Black people make up the majority of Atlanta’s population. However, we also make up half of the COVID-19 deaths in this city. Reports by Kemp and local news investigators claim that the state has seen a fall in COVID-19 cases; that may be true. Be that as it may, Atlanta is home to Georgia’s largest hospital, Grady Memorial Hospital, and that hospital is still seeing a steady number of patients testing positive for COVID-19. Grady is also in the heart of Atlanta, in Fulton County—the county most affected by this virus in all of Georgia, and the county in which I reside. And as more people have been lingering outside since Kemp’s executive order was first signed towards the end of April, the numbers are slowly beginning to rise again.

Here is my reality: I am a 23-year-old Black person who has asthma and who also has a heart condition not often found in Black people—especially those my age. I was diagnosed when I was 17. I have had two heart surgeries and am now on my third cardiologist. Even after the two surgeries, my doctors continue to be stumped on how I could possibly have this heart condition, especially considering that all of my other numbers are “healthy.” Nevertheless, my heart is not strong enough to survive a COVID-19 diagnosis. I knew this before there was ever an official stay-at-home order put in place here in Georgia. Because of this, I have been home alone since the very beginning of March. I have seen no family, no friends, no love interests, and no sex partners. I have all my groceries and other essential items delivered to my home. I go outside only to receive my mail and to toss my trash—sometimes I sit out and enjoy the sun in the process. For the most part, I stay inside.

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My anxiety runs rampant at the thought of touching the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s not just my disabilities that leave me fearful, but the fact that I am also fat and Black. As previously stated, Black people are dying at disproportionate rates because of this virus, and it is a documented fact that fat people die at alarming rates due to fat bias in the medical field. But more directly related to COVID-19, some health officials have claimed that the reason for why people who are young and “otherwise healthy” are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 are because they are “obese” and have a high BMI. The BMI was never intended to determine the level of fatness in an individual, however, and because of this—due to the general makeup of our bodies and the fact that the BMI does not reveal the makeup of one’s body—Black people are overwhelmingly classed as “obese” and “overweight” by the BMI. It is not illogical, then, to conclude that it would not be safe at all for me to be anywhere near a hospital during what is a global pandemic wherein the people with my identities are the ones being most heavily impacted by this virus.

This being the case, I am more afraid now, with the reopening of Georgia, than I have been for the entirety of this quarantine. Because now I have even less control over what happens to my body. When we were all in quarantine, the people who delivered my groceries were forced to interact with far fewer people; as was my mailman. And it was much less likely that I would interact with a Coronavirus-infected surface when I went to the mailbox or the dumpster because others in my apartment complex were home more consistently. That bit of a safe haven is quickly coming to an end, but the conditions which led us to being quarantined are not. Now, I’m obsessively sanitizing my groceries, my mail, and anything else that enters into my home—more than I already was.

My anxiety has already been bad; my depression, worse. Every time my chest aches, or I struggle to breathe, or I feel a little more tired than usual, I think about which of the groceries I maybe didn’t sanitize enough; the number of people the driver may have had to interact with from the moment they accepted my order to the moment they dropped them at my front door; who in my complex could have touched something communal that I also touched. I know that this will only get worse as more people inevitably re-enter the world. I’m afraid that one day it won’t be a false alarm. And I’m afraid of how my body will shut down should I have to choose between dying at home or dying in the care of professionals who don’t care about me. The reality is that all odds were already stacked against me and now there’s just more weight being added.

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I don’t know how many people will read this essay. I don’t know how wide it’ll spread. I hope, however, that everyone who does read this will share this perspective with someone they love. We are all restless and tired of being home. I get that. But your actions could very well harm the most vulnerable of us, and that could quite possibly be avoided. Since our government has not been competent enough to recognize that we are nowhere close to the end of this battle, it’s going to take all of us who can—emphasis on “can,” as returning to work will not be a choice for many—to properly care for ourselves and one another to ensure that as many of us as possible survive this pandemic. No one wants to be around people more than me, but my own survival and the survival of those with whom I share community matters more to me than a few fleeting moments with loved ones.

I always heard “it takes a village” when I was growing up; here’s to hoping that we’re all committed to being that village. 

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Da'Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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