Health Race

COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Preexisting and Underlying American Racism and Sexism

As with most issues in the United States, Black Americans and female Americans are the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 6, Louisiana was the first state to release data on Covid-19 broken down by race. Its report showed that while African American’s make up 33% of the state’s population, they accounted for 70% of those dead from the virus at the time.

Other cities and states soon followed suit with their own reports as the federal government remained silent on the issue. These reports showed, one after another, that areas with large populations of Black people have been ravaged with disproportionately high numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths. Wisconsin reported that while Black people make up 7% of the state’s population, they made up 33% of the state’s deaths. In Michigan, the numbers are 14% of the population versus 40% of the deaths. In New York, Black people are twice as likely to die from the virus as white people.

The pandemic has further exposed the stark racial divide in health in our nation. Black American communities face extreme situations of environmental racism which leads to underlying health issues like which make these communities more vulnerable to Covid-19. Asthma, cancer, and other respiratory issues are common effects of prolonged exposure to pollution, just one of many symptoms of environmental racism. Covid-19 attacks the lungs and is especially harmful to those with existing respiratory conditions. Further, studies show that racism and racist experiences cause adverse health effects as well including high levels of stress and heart disease. Tying it all together is the face that the American healthcare system provides disparate qualities of care to patients based on race. Black patients consistently receive poorer-quality care that white patients.

Relatedly, women are bearing a disproportionate burden of Covid-19. The vast majority of those on the front lines of the pandemic response are women. 76% of the healthcare workforce is female as well as the majority of service workers. Two-thirds of U.S. minimum-wage workers identify as female and are now either out of work or being forced to jeopardize their lives by working on the frontlines. 39% of small business owners are women who face great uncertainty for their businesses going forward. Women are disproportionately saddled with child care and caring for the elderly. Women stuck at home are facing higher rates of domestic violence.

Racist and sexist practices and disparities are not symptoms of the pandemic but have been exposed by it on a much deeper level. Measures need to be taken by states and the federal government to address the social and economic gender gaps like paid sick leave, equal pay, childcare funding, tough domestic violence laws, equitable access to healthcare, ending environmentally racist practices, and providing more pathways to elected office, higher-wage jobs, and opportunities to be lifted out of poverty for people of color and women.

Sources: New York Times 04/29/20, The Hill 03/31/20