Reem Aziz is a medical student at the University of British Columbia.Picture of Reem Aziz

Voice A: My grandmother, an angel in disguise with beautiful, bold black curls, who always confuses “dessert” for “desert”, is carried inside. It’s just a fever, but I fear I’ll never have the chance to see her dear face …

Voice B: “Is it safe to play outside, mom?” I pause a moment, silently deliberating my son’s question. Why he has needed to ask it. My dear loving, smart, kind Black boy, oh how I wish things would be different for you. He’s just a kid, but every time he steps outside into this cruel and racist world I fear that harm will befall him. That I will never get to see him again.

Death – a gentle peaceful passing I’ve never had to ponder before – has become a regular guest in the lives of many since the rise of SARS-CoV-2; except gentle and peaceful it was not. For many, the ferocity of COVID-19 has brought with it an unfamiliar dread, with constant uncertainty and inability to control what lies ahead. For others however, this was not so unfamiliar. Widespread media coverage has shed much light on long-standing systemic inequalities that have affected the lives of many Black and Indigenous racialized people in Canada and abroad. Compounded by a new ruthless pandemic that has further widened the gap between Black and White, I can’t help but recognize that it is racism – not race – that is the real culprit behind the increase in morbidity and mortality.

We are faced today with two concurrent pandemics. Although the first is more pervasive and has been exerting damage for centuries, the later is afforded greater attention and urgency. Yet, when we look at statistics, this belief is quickly debunked as we see COVID’s disproportionate toll on marginalized people who bear the burden of lower access to quality healthcare, stable housing, adequate income and basic human rights.

The pandemic has served a chilling realization for me of what it means to be vulnerable and powerless, with death awaiting impatiently to steal one’s privilege to life and health. And, although little can be done to relieve the trauma that the virus has brought and the lives it has ended, something CAN and MUST be done to transform the unjust systems that have deprived our Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC) brothers and sisters of their right to life.

Despite being a year like no other, 2020 has importantly highlighted racist truths in our history that have absolutely no room to prevail. It is no longer enough to witness and passively empathize as our BIPOC community relentlessly fight for justice. We know better. We need to revolutionize a deeply broken system to be there for our people, to serve and protect those who then, now, and have always needed it most. Together, we are entitled to a powerful platform and have an incumbent duty to act. We must listen, acknowledge, and amplify the voices who have been silenced for too long. Neutral is not enough.

Note: the voices of A and B are fictional, but their situation is very much a reality for many.