Art can enhance our lives and influence us in ways nothing else can. A combination of beauty, truth, realism, and fantasy can leave us deeply affected by topics that may otherwise be overlooked. That is the hope behind the artistic Covid-19 awareness campaign, RESIST COVID|TAKE SIX, created by Carrie Mae Weems. What began in New York City, has been brought to Detroit by Library Street Collective as a way to assist the community in understanding how to combat the Coronavirus.
Black and white posters depicting people laughing, contrasted with red words saying “Life is beautiful,” are spread throughout East Village. Tote bags, lawn signs, and buttons will be handed out by local businesses to promote awareness, saying “Wash your hands,” and “Cover your face.”
Anthony Curis, co-founder of Library Street Collective, speaks to this, saying,
I think that with this particular project, awareness is everything.” He continues, “Library Street Collective is based in Detroit, a city with a nearly 85% Black population. RESIST COVID|TAKE SIX is a public awareness campaign aimed to educate and inform communities of color about the negative impacts of the disease.
According to the U.S. Census, the current percentage of the Black population in Detroit is 78.6%.
RESIST COVID|TAKE SIX is all about awareness and providing information, but that information can only take a community so far. There is a great amount of health and social inequity in America affecting BIPOC communities. And no matter which way you slice the cake, that inequity, has nothing to do with a lack of understanding of social distancing guidelines.
According to the CDC, the increased risk for those of Black, brown, or indigenous descent comes from a variety of factors. Discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, occupations, education, income, and wealth gaps, as well as housing are all factors. To understand this systemically, one must look at the systemic racism bleeding into other facets of BIPOC lifestyles.
Due to racist structures within our country, like the school to prison pipeline, police brutality, and blatant discrimination, there is a large percentage of BIPOC having lower education and lower income jobs. This often results in a lower rate of healthcare and opportunities for housing. All of these factors contribute to the heightened risk of Covid-19 susceptibility.
One of Weems’ posters touches on this. It depicts a blurred human shape, with the words, “Because of inequity, Black, brown and indigenous people have been the most impacted by Covid-19.” Library Street Collective along with RESIST COVID|TAKE SIX, are working with Empowerment Plan, a non-profit committed to providing coats that transform into sleeping bags to homeless people in the community, and Downtown Boxing Gym which provides children with food, supplies, and physical training, and mentoring.
This outreach alongside the informational context feels like a bandaid to the community. For those who have spent their days since the beginning of the pandemic as essential workers, or who have disproportionately lost their jobs due to the pandemic, there is no amount of artistic virus prevention information that will relive the true cause of their suffering.
According to a non-profit research organization Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “Black workers make up about one in nine workers overall; they represent 11.9% of the workforce. However, black workers make up about one in six of all front-line-industry workers.”
“Artists are such creative thinkers,” says Curis, “and have a sensitivity to the needs of the communities they work within that I think goes so much deeper than corporations and a lot of other initiatives can provide.” If this is true, and art can raise awareness and understanding, why then is working to eradicate the systemic issues not the focus of artistic campaigns such as RESIST COVID|TAKE SIX?
It is wonderful to see how passionate everyone is behind this campaign, but imagine the effect of that passion on a systemic level. Imagine the growth that could be made if, instead of addressing those who are affected by this systemic inequity, but addressing the institutions that are the cause of this issue. This campaign does an excellent job highlighting BIPOC inequity, however, its secondary tones can cause a misunderstanding of the heart behind it.
The development officer at Empowerment Plant, Erika George, says, “We are only as strong as our neighborhoods, and this initiative addresses the inequity we see all too often.” So as a community let’s do more than address this inequity, let’s challenge it. Let’s take Weems’ encouraging words to heart and resist COVID, take six, and fight against inequity together.