COVID-19 affects people of color more severely than white Americans
Since COVID-19 hit the U.S. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since recommended that people wear face masks, my parents began making masks to cure their boredom. My mom made me a nice orange cloth mask, complete with hair ties, so that it could stay on. Later that day, my little brother and I went to H.E.B., a supermarket chain located in Texas. We had to get some food and my mom wanted us to try our masks on, so my little brother and I walked in the store and we were greeted with eyes staring at us. I didn’t think anything at first but then it hit me later that these people weren’t just gawking at my orange cloth mask.
Race is one of, if not the biggest, factors of life in the United States. Race is visible in everything, and it’s even visible in the way we fight against COVID-19. According to NBC “in Chicago, a recent report found that 70 percent of people who died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are black — even though the city’s population is just 30 percent black.” The same article stated that in Milwaukee, while 17% of the population is black, they amount to 81% of COVID-19 deaths. “Fuck me,” I thought to myself while I read the article. Why is this the way that it is? You can blame Uncle Sam for that.
Firstly, the United States’ response to COVID-19 was absolutely appalling, to put it nicely. As of April 7, there are 1,413,415 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the U.S. leading the world with 392,285 cases. People didn’t truly believe the severity of the virus during the weeks of March 8 and 21, which fell during spring break, evident in the words of Brady Sluder, the now infamous white, young, male spring breaker, who said on air, “‘If I Get Corona, I Get Corona.”He later apologized. Race began to play its role in the treatment of COVID-19 right here with Sluder’s underlying assumption that he would be fine or could just get treated. While many medical facilities are taking in cases of COVID-19 and trying to treat the deadly virus, some people of color aren’t going in for treatment.
In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, people of color are less likely to go to a doctor due to mistrust, regardless of socioeconomic status. Why, may you ask? This mistrust is due to the various and horrid experiences of people of color (POCs) in the medical establishment. This includes experiments like the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which doctors left African American patients with syphilis untreated without their knowledge to track how the disease spreads (this study, by the way, ran from the 1930s until 1972).
POCs are also less likely to be able to work from home, as many companies are recommending. In a study by the Economic Policy Institute, less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home. This means POCs are more likely to come into contact with the virus during a work day than those confined safely in their houses.
A final point to remember even prior to this pandemic is that POCs are also profiled and pulled over by police more than whites. The Stanford Open Policing Project ran data from 21 state patrol agencies and 29 municipal police departments, and the data backs up this claim. In recent years, there have been mounting cases of police brutality against black communities, with African Americans killed at a higher rate by police than whites. And while I might say that not all police killings are unjustified, Alton Sterling, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean are a few people who would likely beg to differ if they were still alive.
So back to my orange cloth mask. I live in a suburb of Houston called Spring, Texas. It is a nice suburb; the people are nice here. Getting eyed by the people in the H.E.B. store was a wake-up call for me. And while my interaction wasn’t scarring for me, the situation could have been worse and it will be worse as we move forward. As ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, recently told CNN, “For many black people, deciding whether or not to wear a bandana in public to protect themselves and others from contracting coronavirus is a lose-lose situation that can result in life-threatening consequences either way.”
A lose-lose situation is what we face as we continue to fight this virus. As more and more cities require people to wear a mask or receive a fine, people of color will be faced with a battle, a battle that is unfortunately costly no matter what.