The recent social and political climate in America has placed racism at the forefront of everyday dialogue in such places as social media platforms. The Donald Trump presidency of the past four years was associated with increased racial violence and the empowerment of white supremacy. Instances such as the killing of Black man George Floyd by the police have been pivotal in bringing more awareness and protest of systemic racism. The Covid pandemic has heighted the focus on racism as well, as people, including many of White-privilege, had the more opportunity to reflect on racial injustice. The pandemic brought much more exposure to systemic racism and inequities of poor people in the last year. The Covid pandemic has demonstrated harmful injustices in the dualities created in conceiving ourselves as one and the other. Dualities of white vs. non-whites, and those with means vs. the poor result in inequalities in health care, and a number of other institutions in our society.
The Eurocentric worldview that creates social and biological others, continues to have a large role in the fabric of everyday life in America. This worldview constructed the idea of race, and has placed humanity on a scale of evolution with Whites on the top and Black people at the bottom, with everyone else in between. This scale has dehumanized non-white groups of people and given false justification for inequity and injustice in our competitive capitalistic society of people that have vs. people who have not. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote “Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without setting up the Other…against itself. If three travelers chance to occupy the same compartment, that is enough to make vaguely hostile ‘others’ out of the rest of the passengers of the train. In small-town eyes all persons not belonging to the village are ‘strangers’ and suspect; to the native of a country all who inhabit other countries are ‘foreigners’; Jews are ‘different’ for the anti-Semite, Negroes are ‘inferior’ for American racists, aborigines are ‘natives’ for colonists, proletarians are the ‘lower class’ for the privileged.” (Introduction. de Beauvoir)
“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” From Letter to Birmingham Jail. Martin Luther King Jr.
Systemic racial injustice often goes hand in hand with systemic inequality. Not only has the Covid pandemic shown disproportionate death rates on Americas non-white populations but disparities in income as well. Steve Greenhouse states in his July 30, 2020 article in the New Yorker “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted America’s enduring racial disparities, which are fueled by decades of unequal treatment, unequal opportunity, and structural barriers like job discrimination and poor schools. Blacks have been infected with covid-19 at three times the rate of whites. (The same is true for Hispanics) The coronavirus is also having a hugely disparate impact on Black people’s finances and prospects” (Greenhouse p.1). According to this article America has a political economy that makes Blacks vulnerable to preexisting conditions, and Blacks are more likely to be essential workers (Greenhouse p.1)
The February 5th, 2021 episode of the Rachel Maddow show included a segment on what Maddow referred to as vaccine inequity. The Covid pandemic has demonstrated the systemic inequities in America and throughout the world in the way poor people, poor countries, non-white, and specifically Black people have gotten sick and died disproportionately compared to their white counterparts (msnbc.com).
Racial Disparities Already Taking Shape In Covid Vaccination Rates | Rachel Maddow |
The recent development and roll out of the distribution of the vaccines in America once again points to the same inequities. Black people in America are receiving disproportionately less vaccinations than the rest of the population. According to a February 1st, 2021 article on Politico Magazines website, only five percent of the vaccines administered since the beginning of the rollout in December 2020 have went to Black Americans (Politico 1).
Maddow points out that racial and economic disparities have been the root causes that Blacks have less access to vaccines and are sick and dying more in this country. I agree with Maddow on the fact that because we are familiar with these disparities, we should be able to have a vaccine roll out that avoids such pitfalls. This is one of the most current examples of the fact that as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” that if we fall back on the status quo systems and leadership, we will continue to see the same injustices.
Before the pandemic, our health care system (just one component of this network of systemic injustice) was underserving Black Americans. Reducing the component of poverty in this country would help because Blacks are disproportionally poor. Lessoning the digital divide in America would help the situation access to technology needed to register for the vaccine. Improved access to transportation would help as people without cars are not able to take advantage of such programs as drive-through vaccinations. Maddow interviews Dr. Jerry Abraham of Los Angeles Kedren Community Health Center, who has demonstrated success in using community programs to network and provide resources to underserved populations in vaccination access.
The hesitancy of many people to receive the covid vaccine has been another issue in fighting the pandemic. Some have pointed to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where Black men were denied treatment, as a reason many Black people do not trust vaccines and the healthcare system. However, according to a recent article in the L.A. Times, when Karen Lincoln of Advocates for African American Elders talks to Black seniors “Tuskegee rarely comes up. People in the community talk about contemporary racism and barriers to healthcare…while it seems to be mainly academics and officials who are preoccupied with the history of Tuskegee” (p.1 Dembosky. latimes.com)’
Another part of the issue is the implicit bias of many individuals throughout healthcare systems. “Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes and stereotypes held toward other people. In a healthcare setting, when ideas about a patient are made because of unconscious associations rather than that person’s individuality, it can lead to poor care” (p.1 www.usnews.com). There has been a history of implicit bias in America in the medical management of non-white people. Because of this there have been multiple articles and accounts of Black people who died of Covid because medical facilities deemed symptoms were not enough to receive testing and sent them home (p.1 www.usnews.com).
The CDC website highlights social determinates and inequities that increase the risks of death and sickness due to COVID-19. According to the CDC, discrimination “can lead to chronic and toxic stress and shapes social and economic factors that put some people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of Covid-19 (p.1 cdc.gov).
An additional factor of injustice that has been magnified by the Covid pandemic is homelessness. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty discriminatory economic and housing policies, among other variables, have historically led to disproportionate numbers of homeless in people of color. They also point out homelessness puts people at greater risk for covid due to increased difficulty accessing resources. They go on to say that “Homeless individuals infected with Covid 19 will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times more likely to die than the general population” (nlchp.org p.1).
As we slowly pull ourselves out of the pandemic, recovery is inequitable as well. The February 12 2021 PBS News article Amid systemic inequality, U.S. salaries recover even as jobs haven’t talks about how people in low-income occupations have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic compared to higher-paying industries. Low-income workers from restaurant, hotel, entertainment, low paying health care, and retail industries. Recent indications have shown that overall, Americans are earning similar wages that they were before the pandemic (Rugaber p.1). The Washington Post reported in September 30th 2020 that groups slowest to recover economically from the pandemic recession are “mothers of school age children, Black men, Black women, Hispanic men, Asian Americans, younger Americans (ages 25 to 34) and people without college degrees “(Long, Van Dam, Fowers, Shapiro p.1). We can see here that a proper recovery from the pandemic will involve dealing with systemic injustice as well as inequality.
We must and rebuild all of America’s racist intuitions, in government, health care, education, economy, to name a few. In our information and technological age, everyone needs the same access to information and technology. We must work to end poverty. These are just a few things we can do to lessen the social inequity that make events like pandemics especially horrible and tragic. As Martin Luther King believed, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King p.1) We are all one human race, interdependent on each other. Injustices arise in the creation and maintaining of inequalities rooted in conceiving human groups as one and the other. Once again, we must remember as Simon de Beauvoir said;
“Thus it is no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other…against itself” (Beauvoir p.1)
Rugaber, Christopher. Associated Press https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/a-sign-of-stubborn-inequality-u-s-salaries-recover-even-as-jobs-havent (Links to an external site.)
Long. Heather, Van Dam. Andrew, Fowers. Alyssa, Shapiro, Leslie, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/business/coronavirus-recession-equality/ (Links to an external site.)
https://www.politico.com/news/2021/02/01/covid-vaccine-racial-disparities-464387 (Links to an external site.)
Beuvior, Simone de. The Second Sex Introduction. Bantum Books. 1961
King Jr. Martin Luther. Letter to Birmingham Jail. Harper San Francisco. 1994