Ebola: America, Your Anti-Blackness Is Showing

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My first time seeing Ebola on national news was right after my Eid celebration this summer. I recall coming home from the mosque, tuning my T.V. into CNN, and reading the headline in bold letters at the bottom of the screen: “Two Americans Diagnosed With Ebola”. At that moment, I could feel the collective rage amongst myself and my family members in that room.

My family is Sierra Leonean, scattered throughout the capital city of Freetown and the town of Mashiaka. Through infrequent phone calls and WhatsApp messages that July, we were able to gather that a) the Sierra Leonean government was not at all equipped with the funds to properly prepare themselves for the Ebola outbreak b) there are far too few health clinics/hospitals in the country, and the ones that exist are inadequate in the care they able to provide to patients c) much of the outbreak’s spread was due to misinformation about the disease. I saw my country isolated, battling this disease in the way they knew best, struggling. I saw weeks of unrest and uncertainty about the next steps to take, only to be shown as the backdrop of the health status of two white Americans.

Which leads me to the United States’s response to Ebola. A quick glance at the CDC’s page shows that the aid in West Africa has quickly moved from direct medical attention to extreme preventative measures to ensure that the disease does not continue spreading to the United States. Timelines about the spread of the disease  begin with the disease’s point of entry into the United States and charts mapping the numbers of people that have died from the virus completely negate the number of deaths that occurred in West Africa. It is almost as if this disease does not exist outside of an American context. What is arguably the most troubling aspect of this American response to Ebola have been the numerous requests for a travel ban on flights from West Africa. This extreme quarantining of Africans, as if every country in West Africa has been affected, as if the disease is airborne, as if the United States is not better equipped than the affected countries to treat it in the case of a larger outbreak, all demonstrate the deep-rooted fear of the African continent as a disease-ridden, distant land. This disregard of Black suffering is of course, nothing new to our American culture. However, Americans have a strong history of transforming the disregard of Black suffering into the white savior industrial complex with ease, obvious in the countless HIV/AIDS campaigns that exist. This attempt at aiding the African continent, although often rooted in self-indulgence and imperialist attitudes, serves as the backbone of the relationship between the U.S. and Africa. Its absence, in my opinion, represents a new manifestation of anti-blackness in which disregard for the African continent is layered in fear of the diseases associated with the Black body, then again layered in the framing of Ebola as an impending source of American suffering.

Can the Ebola epidemic be separated from race? When West African high school students are being taunted with chants of “Ebola, Ebola” as they fear for the lives of their families back home? When unaffected Nigerian students are being rejected from universities as a precaution? When Ebola Halloween costumes are being sold as a continent scrambles to contain the outbreak? When it takes the World Health Organization months to admit to botching attempts in responding to the outbreak? There is no clearer example of interpersonal and institutional racism than what is taking place today, and attempts to distance race from the outbreak further perpetuates this notion of anti-blackness and lack of consideration when it comes to Black suffering.

Today, my family members in Sierra Leone are healthy, but vulnerable nonetheless. My only hope is that West Africa can unite in an attempt to utilize resources and countries like Cuba and Canada continue to support these nations.

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