Black death: COVID-19 and African Americans
Coronavirus disproportionately impacting communities of color
As with previous natural disasters in the United States, African Americans and other people in minority groups face the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. African Americans continue to experience widespread discrimination through the economy and healthcare system, leading to higher rates of infection and mortality across the country.
COVID-19 started impacting minority communities in the United States even before the first confirmed case. Asian Americans in Denver and elsewhere experienced a disturbing rise in hateful speech and violence directed towards them.
Rumors also spread online and in the media early on that some people had immunity to the virus because of their ethnic origin. Tragically the truth revealed itself not long after. In many places, African Americans account for the majority of deaths from the virus despite making up a smaller fraction of the population. According to a survey from Johns Hopkins University, nearly 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in Chicago are black people.
Economic factors lingering from the days of slavery segregates neighborhoods, often forcing American Americans to live in unhealthy areas. With the recent incidents at the Suncor factory in Commerce City, Denver itself holds that troubling demographic. Considering that economic disparities can also lead to different eating habits, African Americans and other minority groups on average display higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. All of these preconditions leave the body more susceptible to complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
African Americans also encounter discrimination in the workplace through hiring, pay, and other factors. Considering the problematic relationship between class and ethnicity in the United States, minority families already struggled economically before this. Now that many people in lower-wage jobs find themselves classified as essential workers, they must put their health at risk to afford the costs of rent and groceries for their own families. For those who now find themselves without a job or healthcare coverage, it might be quite some time before the economy recovers.
Another way COVID-19 adversely impacts African Americans lies in the criminal justice system. Prisons hold a substantially disproportionate number of African Americans relative to the overall population, and the conditions inside put inmates at a higher risk of exposure to the disease. Nearly every day, different prisons in the United States report outbreaks of coronavirus.
With the recent recommendation to wear some type of facial covering in public, some people find themselves in a difficult position because they fear others might feel threatened and call the police. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker even called on the Attorney General to ensure that law enforcement officers receive anti-bias training to prevent such cases.
Whether from hurricanes or pandemics, Africans Americans have historically endured extreme challenges. Even though the disease can affect everyone, African Americans have an increased risk because of economic disparities and a history of prejudice. Perhaps in time the system will change for the better, but the current crisis mirrors others in the past in terms of the disproportionate impact on communities of color.