One morning during my last semester in college, I woke up with a strange rash on my face. When it didn’t go away after exhausting a tube of over-the-counter cortisone, my mother persuaded me to see a doctor. The diagnosis was lupus: a life-changing autoimmune disease in which the body literally attacks itself. The physical effects of the disease are cruel, including excruciating joint pain, organ damage, dramatic hair loss, and debilitating fatigue—most of which I have experienced again and again, often for long stretches, throughout my life. And while lupus can be managed, it has no cure.
For three decades, I kept this private and spoke of my condition only with my family and a handful of close friends. I had no intention of changing that until the coronavirus changed everything.
Millions of Americans find themselves vulnerable to COVID-19 because of underlying health challenges, but this pandemic has unearthed particularly deep fractures along our nation’s racial and gender fault lines. This is especially true of lupus. Roughly 1.5 million Americans live with lupus, and we are overwhelmingly female and disproportionately black or brown. For black women like me, lupus tends to take hold at a younger age with more serious, life-threatening consequences. For us, the coronavirus could very well be a death sentence.