IN THEIR latest documentary, Dr Ronx works with Channel 4 to understand why so many NHS colleagues who died from COVID were Black, Asian or from other ethnic minority backgrounds.
The trans non-binary doctor is clear: Until they know why that is, they can’t be sure they’re not next. Bereaved families, community heroes and experts all feature in the documentary airing tonight as they search for answers.
Ahead of that we caught up with Dr Ronx to find out what it’s like working in a pandemic, what the documentary uncovers and how to navigate identity.
How have you found working during such a difficult time?
Never ever ever did I think that I would be working within a pandemic. In the beginning, there was this sense of pride that we would be serving people, keeping people safe and educating. Then I think things started getting tough. Lots of us who were doctors or frontline workers were unable to see our loved ones during lockdown. Then we felt guilty about seeing our loved ones because we weren’t sure if we were carrying COVID.
Then came all the narrative about the mismanagement of PPE, disproportionate deaths of Black and brown people and then the care home debacle. So as the months have progressed, I can say, I didn’t think that I was having low mood or anxiety, but when loads of us reflect on the first wave, we’re like: ‘Wow – how did we get through that?’
What are some of the key questions you try and answer in the documentary?
I can understand why people who have comorbidities, or live on the breadline, might succumb to COVID. But then when I was hearing that the first ten doctors to die from COVID were from ethnic minority backgrounds, then I was like: ‘I don’t really understand what’s going on here.’
Lots of think tanks were very loud about saying ‘something is going on here.’ It felt as though our government wasn’t addressing these concerns in a timely manner.
How important is it that Black and brown people lead these discussions?
I would open it up and say, people who experience certain lived conditions are the best people to be speaking on it.
I cannot speak on the experience of an Asian person, a Bangladeshi person or a Chinese person because I am not from their culture. It would be rude, quite egotistical and very bizarre.
This beautifully rich, diverse, multicultural society that is the UK, unfortunately people speak of the snowy peaks. The higher you get on senior leadership and management, the less people that look like you and me are there.
Once the pandemic is over, should decision makers be held accountable?
Of course they should be, however history tells us that there is an inability for folk to be held accountable in a way that is satisfactory for folks who have suffered. We can go back to all of the reports, we’ve got the Windrush report, we’ve got the MacPherson report.
But I think accountability is important, and I welcome it for all the Black and brown people who have passed and all of us who have had to live through this pandemic.
The instant desire is to finger-point and blame people like Matt Hancock. Matt Hancock is part of a bigger institution which fails to recognise the needs of minority communities, time and time again.
What do you think this pandemic has taught us about the importance of community in a very individualistic world?
In my community in Hackney, I took part putting together food parcels for families that couldn’t afford to eat. It was so beautiful to see that community effort.
On the other hand, it annoys me when people say they won’t wear masks for example. This isn’t about you having COVID or not, this is about us all protecting each other.
But on a more positive note, I met community heroes in the documentary. I met a senior woman in an East London mosque who became an in between for her community and local politicians. She helped those who didn’t realise they were depressed. She highlighted when food bank provisions were not culturally fit for purpose.
That’s one reason community is so important. If you’re not from a community, how can you know what it needs?
As a Black Nigerian trans non-binary doctor, you are an incredible role model. What advice would you give to young people navigating their identities?
I’m 36 now, so I’ve come from a generation where I wasn’t expecting things quickly. One of the things I say to young people is take your time, and that goes for everything.
For example, I changed my pronouns to they/them earlier on this year. I recognise that it’s going to take time for elders or the other people in my life to adopt that so I’m patient.
If you face homelessness or your mental health is suffering, then there are loads of resources online. No one should suffer in silence.
In terms of visibility, I always say to people that you don’t owe anybody anything, you owe yourself everything.
‘Is COVID racist?’ will air on Channel 4 on 23rd November.