Even before George Floyd’s murder finally awakened millions of Americans to the reality of systemic racism, COVID-19 was signaling that it is truly a health emergency. Though we’ve supposedly been fighting a common enemy, we’ve left some more vulnerable to its attack. An old saying speaks a tragic truth, “When America catches cold, black America catches pneumonia.”
Poverty and racial disparities have created a toxic class system, which means communities of color endure perpetually worse health outcomes. As a result, COVID-19 continues to kill black Americans at a disproportionately high rate. Reasons include:
1. Higher rates of underlying health conditions and less access to care. Black Americans have higher rates of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Coronavirus exacerbates these challenges.
2. Holding a lot of “essential” jobs. This means African-Americans are more likely to work around others who might be in poor health where social distancing is difficult – in the food service and hospitality industries or driving taxies and buses.
3. Insufficient information. Blacks got bad and inconsistent information from local, state and federal government, that didn’t seem to represent people in their communities.
4. Housing disparities. Racial disparities in housing – older buildings with asbestos, mold, cockroach and rodent infestations, with more people in smaller spaces, often in areas of higher air pollution - put black lives at greater risk.
We must build a more equitable future, based on solidarity. That will require a commitment to the truth that all people are created equal and a steadfast devotion to fulfilling the promise of being nation of “liberty and justice for all.”