“It was kind of like we were starting from zero,” she said.
And Azariah Baker, a 15-year-old in Chicago, has been caring for her 70-year-old grandmother, who had a stroke at the start of 2020, as well as her 2-year-old niece. Her grandmother is the legal guardian for Azariah and her niece but since the stroke, which left her extremely fatigued with blurry vision and headaches, Azariah has done the heavy lifting at home. She would wake up every day at 7 a.m., make them all breakfast, then log on for virtual school at 8 a.m.
When school was out, she’d go to work at a grocery store. Then she’d come back home and cook dinner. She often felt overwhelmed. “I remember one night, I was making dinner and I was having a panic attack. I was crying, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was racing,” Azariah said.
“But then my alarm went off for something in the oven,” she said, and she put her own needs aside.
These three stories encapsulate the ways in which the pandemic has affected the lives of young women of color across the United States, even if they weren’t directly touched by the coronavirus. Black and Hispanic youth were more likely to have lost a parent or a family member to Covid-19. They have fallen further behind in school than their white counterparts, and they had far higher unemployment rates last year than older adults and young white women, even during the summer, when youth employment typically goes up. Some of those who held on to or found new jobs became crucial breadwinners because their family members were more likely to have been laid off.
Black and Hispanic teenage girls were also more likely than white girls and their male counterparts to shoulder care responsibilities at home, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. At the same time, they were leading racial justice demonstrations across the country, most notably last summer, channeling their energy into confronting and changing systemic inequities.
“Black girls were on the front lines of racial justice movements, they were essential workers and they were primary caregivers,” said Scheherazade Tillet, a founder and the executive director of A Long Walk Home, an organization that empowers Black girls in Chicago. “There’s no other group that was all three of those things at once.”