Onoshe Nwabuikwu

*African, Caribbean, and Black Resilience During COVID-19

Book review by Onoshe Nwabuikwu

Monday 25 December 2023

Is Black Resilience A Blessing or A Curse?

     Three years after coronavirus COVID-19 took the world by storm, or rather stopped the world in its tracks, stories about the virus and survival are beginning to pour in. If you recall, as if anyone could ever forget, the world was on lockdown: Businesses crashed. Marriages and other relationships, already stretched under the sheer strain of being cooped up, reached the breaking point. The long and short of it all: People suffered. However, if there was something that united many around the world, which would be the strength of their endurance, what some would call their resilience. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘resilience’ as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.” “Toughness,” and the “ability of a substance to spring back into shape” are also attributes of resilience. When it comes to resilience, it stands to reason that some groups of people or objects would have more resilience or would be perceived as being more resilient. For good or ill. And so, Black resilience, the presence, and the practice of it, is the subject of the book under review: African, Caribbean, and Black Resilience During COVID-19 (2023), edited by Delored V. Mullings, PhD, Olasumbo Adelakun, PhD and Jennifer Clarke, PhD.

     A collection of essays, academic and non-academic; and poetry, the 276-page African, Caribbean, and Black Resilience During COVID-19 (ACB Resilience During COVID-19) is divided into three parts: Part 1 titled “Navigating and Revisiting Challenges has five chapters plus the “Introduction.”  In Part 1, topics like “Grieving during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Burial Ritual Among African Caribbean Mothers Living in Canada” by Stephanie Fearon (Chapter 2) are treated. Part 2 deals with “Individual and collective activism” and has eleven chapters. One of the chapters (10) by Preeyaah Clarke, tackles the issue of food insecurity: “More Than Just Food: Exploring the Intersection of COVID-19, Food Insecurity, and Black Communities in Canada.”  Part 3 contains all the poetry with six chapters plus the Epilogue. The poem “Black Lives Do Matter” by Delores V. Mullings puts everything in perspective. The book closes with Notes on Contributors.

     It is understandable if the first question that this book generates seeks a justification for the differentiation of resilience: Is Black resilience different from others? Especially when it has already been mentioned that the entire world was more united in their endurance, survival, than anything else. So, why produce a book singling out Black resilience? Some of the answers, even to the unasked questions of entitlement, which may be in the minds of those who think some groups may be more deserving of being heard than others; can only be grasped by reading the book. This review is going to focus more on exploring the place of resilience. Be that as it may, the key to understanding, even enjoying this book is to fully understand the “why” of African, Caribbean, and Black resilience during COVID-19 (2023).

     In the “Introduction,” its authors Delores V. Mullings, Olasumbo Adelakun and Jennifer Clarke attempt to provide answer to the question; ‘Why this book?’ The first necessity stems from the need for Black people to be able to “control what is written about us and contribute to making our future better”…in order to be able to “centre our goals, aspirations, struggles, and triumphs” (p.15). The authors (of the Introduction) consider the book not only “a necessity for people of African heritage, no matter where on the planet they physically and spiritually reside” but a “representation of the essence of our essence-under extreme circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic” (p.15). This means the book must be easily accessible. The practical outcome is that ACB Resilience During COVID-19 is not a ‘woe-is-me’ anthology. Even its cover is a vibrant colour of black, red, and green. The book is as relevant for the academic as it is for the professional care giver. As it is for someone who just wants to bask in the resilience of Black people.

     Still, the question remains: How is Black resilience different from other groups? For one, before COVID-19 “Black bodies were already vulnerable to public deaths, and Black pain often trended on social media and was experienced in public spaces as entertainment” because of reasons not unrelated to various anti-Black and systemic racism (p. 17). So, the disproportional high death rates of Black people especially as African Americans raised the alarm in the US, did not come as a complete surprise. Which is not to say that there were not times that it appeared that COVID-19 could succeed where other scourges against ACBs may have failed. The fact that at the end of it all, Black people not only won the battle, but they also seemed to have won the war, is traceable to their now famous or infamous resilience. But have Black people become too resilient? Fears that this may be the case, can be deduced in phrases like “Black don’t crack.”

     Sadly, this is what fuels the belief and anti-Black racism that Black people, especially women do not feel pain. As Jennifer Clarke, Tamar Hewitt, Tina Hewitt, Preeyaah Clarke and Stacy Diedrick write in Chapter 14: “Sistah Circle: Black Women’s Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and Support During COVID-19,” they are “intimately aware of the lack of attention to Black women’s pain in prenatal and birthing and navigating and advocating for culturally appropriate care during complications and postnatal periods” (p.179). It is the response to painful pregnancy and childbirth experiences that gave birth (pun unintended) to Sistah Circle, described as a virtual and in person community and a “transformative space for support and healing” for one of the chapter’s authors (p.173). That could have become an unmitigated disaster. However, that too has now become another tale of resilience. This speaks to the point made by Alyson Renaldo in Chapter 1(‘COVID-19’s Role in Disrupting the Myth of Resilience’), that: “Resilience is a response to extremes… a call to battle” even as “no actual soldier has ever spent every day of their life on the battlefield” (p.29). Black people would need to just breathe at some point.

     This brings us to the question I asked at the opening: Is Black Resilience a blessing or a curse? The short answer would be both a Yes and a No. According to Alyson Renaldo, even though Black people’s “ability to endure will always be a point of pride,” it’s crucial for them to always recognize the fact that “chronic resilience is an avatar of vulnerability” and must “commit to rerouting that resolve and commitment to selfcare, wholeness, and personal and collective nurturing” (p.37). Better still, this will not cost an arm and a leg but just a diversification and reallocation of existing coping mechanisms.

  • Onoshe Nwabuikwu is a PhD candidate, Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa.