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Washington Post - April 11, 2020

Black America is ground zero for covid-19.

Alarming health department statistics from cities and counties in the Carolinas, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin show that black people are getting sicker and dying at higher rates from the novel coronavirus than white people. Although the federal government hasn’t yet released data on the pandemic and race, the disparity looks likely to be a national trend, exacerbated by a combination of biased white doctors, black people’s well-documented distrust of the medical community and the failure to aggregate and properly report out data on the sick and dying.

Even President Trump has noticed. “Why is it that the African American community is so much, you know, numerous times more than everybody else?” he asked on Tuesday, adding: “It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it.”

But the answer to Trump’s question is obvious: Black people are at the mercy of everything that is flawed and dysfunctional about America’s health-care system, which has long been shaped by racism.

Decades of research show the ways that racism produces a rigged system that drives disparities in health outcomes across lifetimes and generations. Higher levels of discrimination and bias are associated with elevated risk of a broad range of diseases, from higher levels of stress hormones, to blood pressure, to obesity and early death. All of those underlying conditions put people at higher risk for bad outcomes from covid-19.

It doesn’t take “a very stable genius” to connect black people’s higher rates of unemployment, mass incarceration, chronic preexisting medical issues, poor housing, homelessness and less reliable access to quality health care to see why they’re more vulnerable to increased viral transmission, infection and death during a pandemic. Black people are also less likely to work in the kinds of jobs that will continue to pay you if you don’t physically show up in the office. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow pointed out this week, the ability to work from home, to practice social distancing and to wear a mask without fear of being arrested or shot while black are all forms of privilege.

This isn’t the first pandemic where the pathologies of American racism have exacerbated the pathologies of a virus.

The 1918 pandemic, the second-deadliest outbreak in human history, killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. When the flu first hit and overwhelmed the nation’s health care delivery systems, black illnesses went underreported in data collection efforts. News coverage of the flu’s impact on black communities was limited, because white society believed that the virus primarily affected white people. The assumption was that blacks were immune to the flu, partly due to the buffer of legalized segregation and pseudoscientific theories about black bodies. ...
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