COVID-19 AND RACISM

Amal Ali 
April 29, 2020 

COVID-19 has caused an upheaval in nearly everything that is considered “normal” to humanity. As the world retreated into its homes, planes stopped flying, sporting matches and events were cancelled, businesses shut down and schools closed, it was almost as if everyone was given their first chance to take a breath in 2020 and really assess the damage of the new year’s events. After the Australian wildfires that took both the continent and social media by storm, the talk of a possible World War III after the United States had Qasem Soleimani assassinated in Iran, and the sudden death of beloved basketball icon Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, Gianna, it almost seemed as if the new decade had gotten off to possibly the worst start anyone could have imagined. The coronavirus pandemic only confirmed the awfulness of 2020.

 

There is, however, a silver lining in the pandemic. It’s a small one, to say the least, but still glinting with a message of hope for the future. While the nature of what the pandemic has revealed is dark, there is no doubt that the information it exposed as leaders attempted to slow the spread of the virus is highly valuable to the formation of a stronger, safer, and better society for everyone when the planet opens up its doors. 

 

COVID-19 has shed light upon several political issues that were constantly swept under the rug for years on end before the virus began, and it is absolutely imperative that we all collectively acknowledge those issues and promise to fix them instead of returning to the status quo as our communities begin to open up again.

One of these issues, which has hurt marginalized groups for centuries upon centuries, is racism. There is no denying that as the need for action regarding the pandemic increased, so did racist violence against Asians worldwide. Another glaring inequity that quickly became clear was the disproportionate amount of African Americans dying from COVID-19, as well as their struggle to receive proper care during the pandemic because of unjust prejudice against them. 

 

The stories are endless. In Australia, two Asian women were berated because the assailants accused their race of deliberately spreading COVID-19 around the world - an allegation that is not only fueled by discrimination and hatred, but is also just a plain lie, because viruses can spread through populations quickly no matter where or whom they originated in. An Asian woman in New York City was attacked simply for wearing a mask, which is a safety precaution that all Americans are encouraged to follow now. And in Los Angeles, an Asian student was physically attacked only because they were Asian. America’s own president was photographed deliberately crossing out the word “corona” in his speech notes and replacing it with the word “Chinese” whenever the phrase “coronavirus” showed up.

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Viruses can spread through populations quickly no matter where or whom they originated in.

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African Americans have been dying of COVID-19 at incredibly and alarmingly fast rates, and when you compare the numbers to other races, it is obvious that racial inequality is playing into it. Take what Jerome Adams said about marginalized communities, for instance. He asked members of these specific groups to help stop the transmission of the virus by avoiding tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. It is a seemingly harmless statement on the surface, but what is controversial is that it fails to address the structural inequality and racial prejudice that makes it easier for these groups to contract said virus. There is a lot more involved in how other races face infection more than the privileged than just the use of addictive substances. 

A whopping 30% of all COVID-19 cases in America are composed of African Americans, while they actually represent only 13% of the nationwide population. The number of hospitalized and non-hospitalized cases for African Americans plus the number of deaths soars past the figures for whites. The issue extends to the Hispanic community as well. In America, they account for the second largest amount of cases and deaths right after African Americans. 

 

The clear disparities between the different communities in America are the result of underlying racism fueling discriminatory policies and practices, many of which were all the more encouraged by the Trump administration. It is easier for African Americans and Hispanics to get infected because they are constantly forced into more dire circumstances and unsafe situations than, say, white Americans are. This is partly because these marginalized communities consistently make up more of the “essential workforce” as the racial inequity they face in nearly every aspect of the country forces them to work twice the number of jobs just to earn enough to survive. These communities have a much harder time securing high-paying, safe and well-known positions, which is what leads to them having so many “essential work” jobs. And these jobs naturally put them in conditions that are dangerous during a pandemic, because oftentimes they include constantly being in contact with the public.

 

Adequate income, time to readjust, living conditions, health services and more are all resources that white Americans have better access to, and all these resources are now extremely important for remaining uninfected. African Americans had an unemployment rate that was twice the national rate before the pandemic even hit, and they also have been overrepresented in the lowest-paying jobs for several years due to America’s history of segregation in the workplace. And since African Americans are also severely affected by the “last hired, first fired” dynamic, many do not have a source of stable income, which thereby impacts their housing. The poverty rate for African Americans in 2018 was 20.8%, and for Hispanics, it was 17.6%. For white Americans, it was 8.1%. This makes it increasingly difficult for marginalized communities to have access to good healthcare, because the cost associated with it is just too much for them to afford. When all of these conditions are combined, it becomes increasingly difficult to retreat to a safer environment where you have a better chance at remaining healthy when a pandemic hits. 

We must declare racism as a national wrong that must be righted as soon as humanly possible, because no matter how many falsehoods are fabricated, racism takes away lives. Racism kills. Racism has stolen peace and happiness from marginalized communities for nearly an entire millenium. As racism rooted itself into America’s justice system, healthcare system, economic system, and overall governmental practice, it directly caused the death of people of color. 

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We must declare racism as a national wrong that must be righted as soon as humanly possible, because no matter how many falsehoods are fabricated, racism takes away lives. Racism kills.

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As this pandemic and quarantine measures continue, we need to find new and better ways to connect to those marginalized communities who are unfairly suffering more than others and support them through this health crisis. This means, among other things, that testing needs to be available to all members of the American population regardless of skin color, and that everyone should have access to things like masks and gloves. It also means that no one should be given priority as a patient in the hospital solely based on their skin color. 

 

After the imminent health threat of COVID-19 begins to lessen, we cannot let this underlying racism go back to status quo. We must name the issue and tackle it by partnering with organizations working on the forefront of this. We must bring it forth to our local and federal House of Representatives and Senate. 

 

So, what is the most effective way to bring these issues to the government? Never underestimate the power of putting pen to paper. We have arranged everything that you need to write a letter or an email to your representative or senator on our “Make a Change” page. We urge you to take a moment to write, because it is crucial that we fight for those who no longer have the energy to fight for themselves as the system has drained them. Talk to your friends and family - the more voices we assemble, the more power we have. We have the rare opportunity to flip the whole system around this time, so we must seize it. 

COVID-19 has gifted us with the chance to uproot the discrimination laced into our country’s government, and if we leave the issue unaddressed, there is a much larger chance that the current administration will pretend that racial inequity is not present in America and therefore does not need to be fixed. And we cannot let that happen again.

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