These days I have a knot in my stomach every time I reach out to a friend of mine. I’m afraid to call them or text them because I know if they don’t answer they might be dead.
I do not work in a high-risk industry, nor do I live in a war zone, but my fears for the well-being of my loved ones are neither irrational nor unfounded.
I am a black male living in Brazil and many of my friends are also black.
Living as a person of color in a country struggling with racism, inequality and racial police brutality is always a risky business. But the stakes are even greater when this country is in the midst of a pandemic and is ruled by a far-right authoritarian who dismisses the deadly virus as “a little flu.”
Since the pandemic started early last year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has worked tirelessly to undermine efforts to stem the spread of the virus. He repeatedly showed up at social gatherings without a mask, shaking hands, hugging people and encouraging them to “get back to normal.” Even when he contracted the virus himself, he did all he could to undermine the seriousness of the risks facing the Brazilian people. After announcing his positive COVID-19 test result to the media, for example, he casually removed his mask before continuing to speak. Last year, at the height of the first wave of coronavirus in Brazil, Bolsonaro sacked not one but two health ministers in a matter of months because they wanted to implement physical distancing measures that the president deemed “unnecessary. “.
Due to the federal government’s reluctance to act, Brazil quickly became one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic.
More than 200,000 Brazilians have already lost their lives to COVID-19 and, with the number of cases rising rapidly across the country, hospitals are struggling to cope with admissions.
As elsewhere in the world, such as the United States and Great Britain, people of color bear the brunt of this crisis in Brazil, for multiple reasons.
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, but over the following decades the country took no constructive steps to integrate millions of Brazilians of color into society. Instead, they chose to deny the existence of racism and racial inequalities, baselessly declaring Brazil a “racial democracy” where everyone is color blind and lives in harmony. As a result, Afro-Brazilians have remained largely an underclass – to date, they suffer the worst police violence, have limited access to education, represent a disproportionate percentage of the unemployed, have limited representation in government bodies. decision and are almost three times more likely to be victims of homicide.
Some Afro-Brazilian families managed to enter the middle classes between the early 1990s and the mid-2010s, when Brazil was in fact a democratic country and social mobility was a real possibility.
I am lucky to be from a middle class family. I live in a gentrified neighborhood, have access to decent health care, and have a job that allows me to work from home during the pandemic.
But a lot of my friends aren’t so lucky. Like most Afro-Brazilians, they come from poor backgrounds and live in urban slums that we call “favelas”.
In the country’s favelas, many Brazilians of color live in small, poorly constructed houses with limited infrastructure alongside dozens of other family members. Open sewers and rotten garbage piles are common sights in these bustling neighborhoods where federal authorities have almost no control.
As you can imagine, for people living in these areas, it is almost impossible to practice physical distancing or take extra hygiene precautions to keep the virus at bay. For most people living in the favelas, who have low-income manual jobs, working from home or avoiding crowded places is also not an option.
On Monday, São Paulo authorities finally administered Brazil’s first COVID-19 vaccine, giving us hope that the crisis that is decimating our country may one day be over.
But things will likely continue to get worse before they start to get better.
As of this writing, I still haven’t heard from several friends who I know are in dire straits. They not only live with the fear of losing loved ones, or their own lives, to COVID-19, but also face the very real possibility of losing their livelihoods in a rapidly deteriorating economy.
Even though my family and I are safe, at least for now, I have suffered from insomnia and depression since the onset of this crisis. I am scared and angry because I live in a country where people are on their own in the face of a deadly global public health emergency. I am terrified because I live in a country run by a president who thinks the crisis is not real and that the lives of millions of Brazilians of color, like me and my friends, do not matter.
In November, Bolsonaro, in line with his many past homophobic statements, said Brazil must “stop being a country of f * gs” to deal with COVID-19 and “face the crisis and fight.”
Sadly, as I think of chaotic and overcrowded hospital wards, thousands of grieving families, and my friends in the favelas trying to survive in conditions that would be unbearable for many, I can’t help but think that Brazil has already lost its fight against this virus.
Some Brazilians still enjoy the summer as if nothing had happened, meeting their friends in large groups in pubs and on the beaches. They may be believing the president’s lies about the pandemic, or assuming that with their social and economic privileges, they don’t have to worry about the collapse of the health service or reports of the growing number of deaths.
But as an Afro-Brazilian, even though I’m in a better place than most, I can’t afford to ignore the crisis that my country is engulfed in. Black and brown Brazilians die alone, painful deaths every day, and there is a very real possibility that a friend, relative, or even myself, could be next in line.
Brazil was once known as the “país do futuro” (country of the future) – today that future seems uncertain, especially for us black Brazilians.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.