The Realities of Social Distancing for a Black Girl

Youth organizer from GGE’s Young Women’s Advisory Council; photo Bryan Tarnowski

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has exposed the disparities in quality of life for many Black girls, including myself. Even as an adult, I find it hard to grapple with the fact that I am expected to practice social distancing while managing the daily stresses of navigating this new way of living.

Many Black girls are struggling to find their balance and light through this unprecedented moment. As our entire lives have been put on pause, we are flooded with “take this moment to be grateful for what you have and the people in your life” sentiments that are easy to hold on to when you come from a place of privilege. However, as I have witnessed in my escape to neighboring towns to get some fresh air, there are people in this world who have the ability and provisions to handle social distancing differently. There are people who are able to take refreshing walks around their neighborhoods because the cleanliness and capacity of their streets permits. People are walking their dogs and pushing strollers while waving to their neighbors who live yards away from their big homes without fear of exposure to the virus because they have property and physical space. They are with their children, parents and spouses, going about their day, “business as usual”. Then on my way back home, I reflect on why I couldn’t just take a walk in my own neighborhood: the houses are sitting on top of each other, arm-length apart, so there’s no privacy or space. Every five minutes I bump into someone dealing with their own internal crisis or people who might not be aware of the CDC’s preventive measures, as well as folks experiencing homelessness and risking exposure to or spreading of COVID-19 themselves. I recognized that if I would’ve taken that walk around my own neighborhood, that moment of “reflecting on what I have and the people around me” would have left me feeling worse than I did when I left.

Social distancing is easy when you have generational social and momentary wealth that gives you immunity to negative impacts of a quarantine, access to services, space to just be and people that are equally well-resourced and can support you. However, this moment in our country’s history shines a critical and unforgiving light on our still evolving social and wealth gaps. While my story contributes to the narrative of what some Black girls across this country are experiencing, we are not a monolith, and many stories are more complex than mine. I have access to technological resources that allow me to work from home and other things that will keep me afloat, but these initial weeks of navigating the pandemic’s evolution have made it clear that the systems to prepare, care for, and look out for Black girls during a moment like this are not in place.

While this long-standing inequity is highlighted by the coronavirus’ spread, our team at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) has been working for nearly two decades to address it. In November, we launched our national campaign, A National Agenda for Black Girls, uplifting the policy priorities of Black cis and trans girls, gender non-conforming and non-binary youth of color across the country. As part of this campaign, we are urging for the passage of a Black Girl Bill of Rights, unapologetically outlining the rights and privileges that Black girls and women deserve in order to thrive in our society. This includes the right to be safe and have our physical, emotional, and mental health honored, protected and nurtured — an impossible expectation in a society where Black girls and their communities are regularly denied the resources and infrastructure to thrive.

In this time of chaos and change, GGE continues its work to create tangible improvements in the lives of Black girls and their communities across the country. Join us in this fight — our futures depend on it.

Quadira Coles is the Policy Manager at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). GGE is an intergenerational organization committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women. Learn more at www.ggenyc.org.

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women