By Faithe Day, PhD Assistant Director of COVID Black, A Taskforce on Black Health & Data
On March 27, 2020, following weeks of general data released about the spread of COVID-19 in the US and abroad, Democratic lawmakers and politicians such as Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Robin Kelly stated in a letter to Health and Human Services Department Secretary, Alex Azar that it is imperative that the Center for Disease Control collect and report racial and ethnic health data by state. This call came in light of the reality that low-income communities of color would be greatly affected by COVID-19 due to multiple overlapping systems of inequality and racism, such as location and food deserts, lack of access to health insurance and care, pre-existing conditions and comorbidity, working in industries at greater risk for virus spread, intersectional marginalization, and many other concerns. As the data came in, it was no surprise to learn that a disproportionate number of deaths from coronavirus in the United States have now been attributed to members of the Black community. This initial data has resulted in the visibility of “hot spots” of racial health disparities, where Black people are a minority in the general population but a large portion of the reported coronavirus deaths. Even outside of the United States, there is a significant amount of data which points to the global resonances of these racial health inequalities. Even with this information, the collection of data remains incomplete, and as of today many states have not reported racial health data on coronavirus deaths and diagnoses. As COVID-19 continues to claim lives, those who are the most vulnerable among us deserve to be recognized and to have citizens mobilize around causes which seek to bring greater light to these inequalities by pressuring institutions and government systems to create solutions. COVID Black serves as one such example of how citizens are responding to these concerns.
Initiated by Kim Gallon (Associate Professor – Purdue University), Nishani Frazier (Associate Professor – Miami University), and Faithe Day (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in African American Data Curation – Purdue University), COVID Black – a Taskforce on Black Health and Data is a black digital humanities (Black DH) project that includes a rapid response task force of scholars, medical professionals, and community members created for the purpose of organizing resources and actions around data and health disparities within and for Black Diasporic communities. Utilizing the critical and justice oriented frameworks of Black Studies, black digital humanities, and public health this group seeks to collectively build awareness and outreach around the role that intersectionality plays in issues of information, science, technology, and medicine. As a Black DH project, COVID Black foregrounds an understanding of race as a technology in order to recover the role that systemic racism always already plays in the politics of platforms, publics, and policy. Specifically, we are focused on the ways in which digital tools and technology can be used to not only collect numerical data, but to facilitate collaboration, creation, and community through the collection of information and discourse which highlights the lived experiences of Black people during and beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.
While many are writing about this pandemic as an unusual occurrence that has shed new light on the many injustices of our world, for those who exist as part and in study of Black communities, COVID-19 has only exposed one of the many ways that marginalized folx and communities of color are disenfranchised by centuries old systems of inequality. Instead of just focusing on collecting data detailing the effects of the virus, COVID Black pinpoints the historical resonances of Black health data in order to address larger systemic issues of racial and ethnic injustice within government, institutions, and healthcare systems. In this sense, COVID Black is built on a framework of ethics, justice, and community concerns. Like other projects within the field of Black DH and Black Digital Studies, this organization pinpoints the interrelations between data collection, curation, curriculum, cultures, critique, and custodial models through the centering of Black Diasporic People and Communities. We also understand that the lived experiences of Black Diasporic People are important and that analyzing living data is just as relevant in this time period as the collection of posthumous data and statistics. Therefore, COVID Black is not only invested in the stories that the statistics tell us, but also the social stories which are currently being generated online and in the media, as well as the stories which have persisted about and within Black Diasporic communities around health and well being for centuries. COVID Black also attends to the question of how we can tell stories and craft visualizations that make information, data, and policy available, legible, and useful to Black communities.
To collect these stories and statistics, the first action step of the COVID Black taskforce has been to mobilize academics and community members to reach out to their local health departments and scholarly communities to collect racial and ethnic health data on coronavirus. The collection of this data is essential to understanding the scope of the effect that the coronavirus is having on Black communities now, while setting the groundwork for practitioners and policy makers to offer solutions for the future. Especially as Black Diasporic people live with undiagnosed mental and physical health conditions every day. These conditions are only exacerbated by the intersections of class, ability, gender, sexuality and many other valences of identity and experience. Instead of allowing this time period to become one more archival silence in the record of Black experience, COVID Black does the work of collecting, archiving, and analyzing the digital data and ephemera of this extraordinary moment in our collective history.
Faithe Day is a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation with a joint appointment in the Libraries and School of Information Studies and African and African American Studies at Purdue University. Faithe develops curriculum, data collection, and curation projects in collaboration with other scholars to identify critical frameworks and best practices to ensure an ethical, community-engaged, and justice-centered approach to data curation. Specifically, she studies the role that online commenting communities play in the construction and consideration of Black Queer and Femme identity as well as the algorithmic underpinnings of social media content, platforms, information, and networks. Currently, Faithe Day is working as the Assistant Director of COVID Black, a digital humanities project and task force on Black Health and Data. Through this project, Day combines her work with Critical Data Studies and Black DH to conceptualize the collection and caring of/for Living Black Data.
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 COVID Black Letter to Health Departments – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X2xgspKswla6a6gyG9VFSDqydmqmx6GlZJA93a81PPQ/edit