Intergenerational trauma cannot be ignored in understanding why British minorities have been more vulnerable to Covid-19 than their White counterparts.

The UK is a racist country. Always has been, always will be. It is a country that has consistently failed to get the point. The biggest point it has failed to see is that rich, white English people are not superior to all other human beings on the planet.

Whilst the arrogance arising from this wilful and hypnotic obfuscation once fuelled a brutal, world-dominating empire, today it results in a country that is unable to understand what is happening within its territory. As a result, its social and political fabric is being shredded by confusion, ignorance and myopia.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the number of people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in the UK dying from coronavirus has been higher than the rate of white people. 

Many media reports presented this information to a baffled public, and no doctor, scientist, journalist or government official has been able to explain why this is the case.

It is primarily thought to be because black and South Asian people are more likely to have health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, which increase one's risk of death if Covid-19 is caught. This is a crucial point, and we will return to it later.

Then other possible causes were raised, including higher levels of overcrowded housing, poverty and a higher proportion of BAME people working as key workers in high-risk, people-facing roles.

Eventually, several reviews and reports came out recognising the role of structural racism – all ignored by the government.

Public Health England also conducted a report. However, before publishing it, the government censored the most crucial part: its recommendations on reducing the health inequalities between BAME and white people. As a result, unsurprisingly, high death rates continued in the second wave, particularly amongst people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origins.

A crucial but ignored factor

Whilst all the above speculations and findings point in the right direction, we still don't have a complete picture.

We can't just focus on poverty and discrimination when we talk about structural racism. We have to look at what has caused these things; we have to look at the social structure of Britain.

In that, we will find something we all too often forget: contemporary Britain has been structured by its brutal colonial past.

Britain's BAME population mostly consists of people who are directly from – or have descended from – citizens of Britain's former colonies. After having their native lands pillaged, many escaped the bleak poverty imposed on them by their former colonisers to be used by them again as cheap labour to rebuild Britain's economy after World War Two, often living in impoverished ghettos created by racist social housing policies - areas where, if not now gentrified, their children and grandchildren still live in appalling conditions.

The British empire dished out a lot of physical and psychological trauma to its subjects. Studies have shown trauma can be carried intergenerationally and cause a range of physical and mental health problems. When we talk about BAME people having higher rates of pre-existing conditions that may have contributed to deaths from Covid-19, the role of intergenerational trauma cannot be ignored.

One study of Holocaust survivors' children revealed the adverse effects of their parents' trauma in their genes. (Jews have also been badly affected by the pandemic: An Orthodox community in London had one of the highest covid infection rates in the world, nine times higher than the national average, and Jews in the UK have a disproportionately high covid mortality rate).

Studies have also shown that trauma can produce serious health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease – the underlying health conditions believed to be the biggest contributors to the high number of covid deaths amongst BAMEs. (It is all so obvious – but even with its apparently advanced statistical analysis and scientific research, we must remember, Britain is a country that willfully misses the point).

Media responsibility

When the media talks about BAME people's vulnerability to covid, it must contextualise this by clearly acknowledging the role of intergenerational colonial trauma. Not doing so is like explaining the Israel-Palestine conflict without mentioning the occupation.

By ignoring this point, another layer of suspicion and fear is being added to the perception of ethnic minorities.

I am seeing this on the streets. I have had white people cross the street when they see me but happily walk past other white people in front of me. I have been asked to show proof of medical exemption from wearing a face mask but have seen white people in the same store not being asked. Already viewed as criminals and terrorists, now we are being considered a public health threat.

The problem will fuel and escalate racial tensions. In my conversations, a number of apparently liberal-minded white people blame these health inequalities on "backwards lifestyle choices" of ethnic minorities.

If the media narrative of these inequalities doesn't look at the root causes of health disparities, and as scapegoats are inevitably sought for the social and economic problems created by the pandemic as they were after the 2008 financial crash, we will see further fraying of already delicate race relations as ethnic minorities are demonised for their health.

Professor Kevin Fenton, the London regional director for Public Health England, stated, "Without explicit consideration of ethnicity, racism and structural disadvantage in our responses to Covid-19 and health inequalities, there is a risk of partial understanding of the processes that produce poor health outcomes". It must be acknowledged that those structural disadvantages include colonial trauma.

The signs aren't good, though. The government is clearly unwilling to consider this. It has already rejected calls for the brutal reality of British colonialism to be compulsory in the English curriculum.

In doing so, the government is ultimately loading the gun to shoot itself in the foot just as its racist, arrogant Brexit has led to empty supermarket shelves.

Just as Britain is crippled outside of the EU, so it is without fully recognised, understood and empowered ethnic minorities. There is only so long you can miss the point before it all blows up in your face. The British establishment itself might very soon feel the trauma amongst the communities it ignores.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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