Why Racism Makes Black People More Vulnerable to the Coronavirus

I’m feeling overwhelmed, extremely concerned, angry, and afraid for my community—Black people. The Centers for Disease Control just released national data confirming what many of us already knew—that Black people are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. More than half of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have been in countries with a disproportionate number of Black residents and Black people in the U.K. are four times more likely to die than whites.

My people are suffering and dying. Structural racism is to blame.

Racism results in Black people having poor health outcomes. This means we are more likely to have underlying conditions, more likely to get sick, and we have a harder time getting well. We are more likely to die.

Racism results in Black people being treated differently when they do receive health care. We are given less medical intervention and poorer-quality care. There’s a level of distrust and expectation that we can tolerate pain at higher rates than others that puts our lives at increased risk.

Racism results in Black people having limited economic opportunity. This means we are more likely to have jobs that don’t allow us to work from home (less than 1 in 5 Black people can work from home) during this pandemic. We are more likely to experience poverty. We have less access to healthy foods. Many of us live in food deserts.

Racism results in Black people dealing with chronic stress. This means we live with higher rates of inflammation that weaken our immune system and make it harder to fight off illness. There is a saying in my community: if White folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.

Racism results in Black people being overrepresented in abandoned populations like the homeless and incarcerated. We are an afterthought.

Healthcare providers and academia—the ones we all look to for answers—are even asking if the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately become a Black pandemic. And I wonder, if and when that happens, will everyone still care?

The United States of America—this country we love—is built on a race construct. The pandemic is making this undeniable reality something we cannot look away from any longer.

At A Call To Men, we intentionally look to those “at the margins of the margins” to articulate their own lived experience and help define solutions that will be effective in their lives—so that we can be better aspiring allies in working for equity. When we center our attention and efforts on those “at the margins,” it’s our belief that everyone will benefit. This is how we seek to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination, but all oppression is intersectional, and this philosophy holds true when you are working to dismantle sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, or ageism.

That’s what we need now—a margins approach.

What can we do right now to support the Black community—and all the most vulnerable communities including Latinx and Indigenous folks? What can we do to support Asian American Pacific Islander communities experiencing racism and discrimination at alarming rates, and whose people are falsely accused as being responsible for this pandemic?

  • We can elevate our understanding of structural racism and its effects on marginalized communities. By educating ourselves, we can make more informed decisions as active citizens and community members.
  • We can set a good example by sharing information from trusted news sources and obeying physical distancing mandates.
  • We can prioritize self-care by encouraging healthy habits to help us deal with stress.
  • We can support the folks who are working right now—front line healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, food delivery persons. If you are able, offer gift cards or tip a little extra.
  • When it is safe, we can volunteer to educate our communities about these issues and how to be effective advocates for change.
  • We can love on each other. We need connection and community now more than ever.

If you’d like to engage more deeply with these issues, we invite you to watch the video from our May 2020 Community Conversation with Super Bowl champ Michael Bennett. I would also love to hear your ideas and the ways you are supporting vulnerable communities in the midst of the pandemic. You can always tweet me @TonyPorterACTM.