Over the last few weeks, as communities across the nation have braced themselves for the continuous impacts stemming from the current pandemic, there’s a message that’s been widely circulated by elected officials and media outlets — “The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate.”
Although this statement holds true in a biological sense, it is largely inaccurate from a societal perspective. After weeks of our ‘new normal,’ we can clearly see that the impacts from the coronavirus are largely disproportionate, much of those impacts falling along racial lines.
I keep reflecting on the mantra, “viruses don’t discriminate,” but yet every day we witness even more data testifying to the fact that Black and Brown communities across the US are the hardest being hit by the pandemic. In places like Chicago, Michigan, and New Orleans, Blacks are overrepresented in COVID-19 related deaths but yet they do not make up the demographic majority in those places. In New York, what has been referred to as the pandemic’s epicenter in the US, Latinos hold the highest COVID-19 related death rate and again, they are not the demographic majority.
But, I don’t need to look at other states to understand the disproportionate impacts of the virus. All I need to do is take a look at my own state. As of now, the Navajo Nation, part of which resides within New Mexico, is considered one of the hardest hit communities across the US with the infection rate greater than that of entire states. Let me repeat, the Navajo Nation with a population of about 173,000 people, has a higher infection rate than many states across the US, not far from the infection rates as seen in states such as New York and New Jersey.
What has become clear is that there is a direct correlation between the number of COVID-19 infections, death rates, and inequity. Viruses don’t discriminate, but humans unfortunately do. As the number of COVID-19 infections increase, so do inequities across all sectors of society from health, housing, business, education, social services, etc. This pandemic has shed a clear light on the legacy of continued racism that continues alive and well across the nation.
It is not that communities of color are less concerned or being less safe than others, it is that people of color continue to suffer from an oppressive racialized social structure that with it has created long-lasting impacts (e.g. health disparities and economic disparities created by inequitable systems) that are largely felt by Black and Brown bodies. Given historic racism that continues in place, it is no surprise that People of Color are the ones who have and will be the most impacted by the coronavirus.
What this pandemic exposes is the underlying and continued racialized hierarchy that forms the basis of society. It exposes the truth that the ones who are most able to ‘shelter at home’ to protect themselves from this virus are those who have the resources to do so. What this pandemic exposes is the continued stark divide between those who have (because they have been given and taken from Others) and those who have not been allowed to have (dictated by those who have) in this country.
Suddenly so many in my own family and community are now considered ‘essential workers,’ not the frontline medical workers, but those who replenish empty shelves, drive across the country to deliver needed food and goods, the cleaning crews at hospitals, food workers, those harvesting food in the fields, among many others. These are the ‘s/heroes’ who are risking their lives to keep things going for the rest of us. But, we must ask ourselves the hard questions — were these individuals given a choice? Or, did society once again force this position of designated ‘essential worker’ upon them? Is it ethical for society to place the burden on these individuals so that the rest can remain in the comfort of their homes complaining about Zoom security issues?
My being aches as I continue to witness the rise of confirmed cases along with the inequities being pushed to the forefront across the nation and especially in our own communities. It is heartbreaking to hear the latest statistics on who is getting sick and who is dying. Much of the disaggregated data based on race painting a clear picture of who that is.
Although the current situation is disheartening, it is vital for all of us to reflect on exposed inequities and take action. Imagine for a moment if the same energy that is being used to battle this microscopic enemy were used to dismantle oppressive systems? Imagine if this same energy were used to eradicate racism? Maybe then we would finally witness justice.
What this pandemic has shown is the power of people and it is my hope that we take this opportunity to not only fight this virus, but to fight the unjust and inequitable systems that continue to plague communities of color across the globe.