The Black Frontline: A Journey of Sonic Blackness in the COVID Pandemic
Oral history is the 21st century African drum. It is a carrier of cultures whose expanded Blackness reflects the scattered geographies from a global history of systems of brutality and injustice. What emerges is a richness through voices of the particularity of Blackness shaped by the White Supremacy of particular regions. The lilt of the islands, the inflection from the West Coast of Africa, the soft musicality of a Southern accent — all Black, all voices whose particular sound is an expression of a sonic experience of global Blackness.
This richness is captured in The Black Frontline, the largest oral history project of global Black doctors and nurses. It is founded by The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (The AIEJ) and co-directed with COVID Black, with funding from The Skoll Foundation.
The Black Frontline invites you into a world of colliding realities of pain and power, structural racism, longstanding inequity, a history of healing and harm and their manifestations in community, society, nation. Framed through 300 narratives of doctors and nurses from across the US, the UK and Ghana; their experiences in Birmingham, London, Leicester in the UK; in Atlanta, Chicago and New York in the US; and in Accra and Kumasi in Ghana — The Black Frontline is a bridge that connects, informs, engages and transforms.
Each accent is a story of a journey. It is in their voices, through their narratives, that the future of healthcare can emerge after they walk us through the horror, the harm, the hurt, the world of healthcare through their lenses. Black doctors and nurses in these three locations are on the frontline and they are a lifeline. Connected, not geographically, but through the devastating arms of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Black Frontline is developed through mixed methodologies and cross collaborations using oral history, journalism, data, and story-telling. It also draws on the theory and application of black digital humanities and the framework and narrative of emotional justice, building an online world of stories, struggle, joy, pain, loss, courage, community and sacrifice.
This is the reality of those who are disregarded — Black doctors and nurses and the Black patients they serve — in a hostile environment of structural inequity. It creates a window into the worlds of the marginalized in order that they become mainstream. By doing this, the project is a bridge that enables a global community to cross into these intersecting worlds of challenge, courage, fear, loss, joy, devastation, survival and community.
The Black Frontline’s method allows for the sonic experience of global Blackness, the richness, complexity and beauty of accents, communicating geography, identity and individuality within a connected community of health care labor. It offers access to the expansive nature of Blackness, negating the single story of a monolithic people.
This project actively creates a narrative of inclusion and centers those who have been historically erased. Quantitative data on the pandemic is privileged. It has been a global focus, offering insight into COVID’s spread, its impact, and its devastation. While numbers are crucial, they only reveal a partial picture. Narratives reveal more. They represent real-world data; the collective, the community. The Black Frontline is groundbreaking in its centering of global blackness, connecting communities, where there is often separation.
There is no pre-COVID experience, no normalcy to which we return. Instead, there is an opportunity to help redefine the future of healthcare, with Black doctors and nurses on the frontline offering their wisdom, expertise, and insight.
Through oral history, this project and its 300 narratives contribute to collective global efforts to reimagine the healthcare sector of the future as a space of equity and empathy. This is The Black Frontline.
*The Black Frontline officially launches in February 2022 at the Center for Africana Studies and Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Esther Armah is the Founder of The Black Frontline and Executive Director of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice. Kim Gallon is the Project’s Co-Director and the Founder and Director of COVID Black.