Hitting us the Hardest: COVID -19 in the Black Community
We don't yet know all the facts about COVID-19. However, one thing that is clear is that the virus is attacking black communities at disproportionate and alarming rates thereby highlighting the extreme racial disparities that have existed for black people in this country for hundreds of years.
Just take a quick look at the numbers. Black people make up 72% percent of Chicago's deaths due to the virus as of early April, despite making up just 30 percent of the city’s population. Michigan has a black population of about 14%, yet black people make up 35% of that cases and 40% of the deaths. In Louisiana, black people make up 70% of the state’s COVID deaths yet represent only 32% of the total population. This horrifying trend can be seen in other major cities and states across the country so we know this is no coincidence.
So, what are we to make of this? As the root causes are examined, we certainly know the reasons are not because of the supposedly profligate lifestyle led by black people as recently suggested by the Surgeon General and Trump surrogate, Jerome Adams (um, excuse me, sir?!). The reasons are instead due to the everlasting legacy of America’s war on black communities and systemic institutionalized racism that has long been a barrier when it comes to our social and economic mobility.
Health is one of the main factors at hand here. Black people have much higher rates of underlying health and pre-exisiting conditions and are more susceptible to hypertension, diabetes, obesity and a host of other conditions that exacerbate the severity of a coronavirus infection. This is due in part because we lack access to affordable healthcare. It is also due to long-standing housing discrimination practices, thereby creating situations where black families are more likely to live in older buildings with toxic conditions that can contribute to asthma and ultimately cause kidney and lung damage, all of which make COVID-19 particularly dangerous.
But there is also a problem within the healthcare system itself as studies have shown that an ugly bias exists in which black patients are sometimes treated differently than whites by doctors and medical staff. This can lead to the undertreatment of pain and decreased medical care and attention. When we express our pain and discomfort, too often is our voice not taken seriously. Reading the heartbreaking stories of how many black people in cities across the US were refused admittance to the hospital during this pandemic, told to go home and take tylenol and ultimately succumbed to this virus demonstrates how deadly this bias can be. It is not only a tragedy, but also preventable. Yet, it happens far too often because racism is so engrained within our institutions.
Black Americans also hold a lot of ‘essential’ jobs that don't provide the luxury to work remotely. We are the essential worker – the bus drivers, the grocery clerks, the nurses and persons who hold jobs that require daily social interaction. We are forced to leave our house everyday to earn our paycheck and therefore our chances of contracting this virus dramatically increase each time we do.
Obviously, the systemic issues that make this a greater threat to us will not resolve themselves immediately. It will take concentrated multi-generational efforts to dislodge the remnants of Jim Crow and all its previous and current forms of racism. We must all make sure we help battle these injustices as much as possible through our actions and advocacy within our community. More immediately, it is also imperative that we also adhere to proven medical facts and practice the basic (as best as we can) preventative safety steps that are being advised in order to combat this ugly virus.
But as with all challenges that we have faced, this too shall pass. We will use our humor and wit to brighten the dark days and our sense of community to ease the feeling of isolation. And we will come out on the other side of this with a higher collective wisdom about the things that we need to do in order to prepare for a brighter future. After all, it is our plight and our gift that we get both the rhythm and the blues. ReplyForward