Commentary: We are NOT equally at risk for COVID-19. Racism makes all the difference

Editor’s Note:  This essay is a response to a recent commentary by Dick Ramsdell posted here.We welcome the expression of divergent views and hope they will foster respectful discussion.  It is reprinted from Woodside World, the newsletter of Woodside Church of Flint, where Pastor Conrad is senior minister.

By Deborah Conrad

This week, a white man regarded as a community leader here in Flint wrote about how important it is for everyone to stay at home right now, which is certainly true. And he got a lot of love for his remarks.

But buried in his essay was this:

It doesn’t care what country we live in, what our name is, what our title is, how much our family cares about us, how much money we have, what color we are, what we believe, what we’ve accomplished in our life, or what possibilities for life we hold. Each of us, all 8 billion, equally, is simply a warm, moist target for this deadly, unseen foe. It is an equal opportunity assassin.

Which is not true.

We are not equally at risk, and this is not an equal opportunity virus.

Though there are certainly many high-profile well-to-do white people who have contracted Covid-19 and died from it, the reality is that people of color are at disproportionate risk. There are health, economic and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of infection.

The CDC, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Johns Hopkins Medicine, plus NPR and various reputable news sources all bear witness to this truth.

Statistics on Genesee County coronavirus cases from the Genesee County Health Department — African-Americans make up 20 percent of the county’s population,  but 43 percent of the coronavirus cases and 46 percent of the deaths.

Some of the risk factors: living in densely populated conditions; working in poor conditions in “essential” fields, such as delivery services, nursing homes, slaughterhouses (which I would certainly reclassify as non-essential, and in factpart of the problem); having higher experience of chronic health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease), largely due to lack of access to healthcare and healthy food, and lower economic means across the board; plus higher stress from all that, which adversely affects immune systems.

Says Johns Hopkins: “Income inequality, discrimination, violence and institutional racism contribute to chronic stress in people of color that can wear down immunity, making them more vulnerable to infectious disease.”

Racism itself, then, makes people of color more susceptible to poor health outcomes. This is true in African-American communities, in immigrant communities, in Latinx communities, in Native American communities. People of color are also more likely to be trapped by our incarceration/detention industry, which is another arena of covid-19 wildfire.

Racism makes people more susceptible.

Racism also affects how we are willing to respond. Consider this headline in The Atlantic this week: “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying.”

Yes, we should all stay home, but not because we are equally at risk. Staying at home is something we do for someone else, for those “all lives matter” that white people are so quick to point out.

People of faith are supposed to give a damn about each other.

America’s chief ill is not coronavirus, but capitalism – the way we have turned over every essential service to the for- profit barons and left so many of us sick, dying or exposed in the predictable wake of the privatization machine. We are supposed to care about each other, even to the degree that we would dismantle a damnable structure for the sake of the common good.

But we won’t do that. Because someone has convinced us that “my” well-being is anathema to “our” well-being, that someone else can only do well at my expense. Which is a lie.

And mostly, faith and leadership compel us to tell the truth. The whole truth. Whether it is religious faith, political faith, or something else, faith requires truth. It does nothing to serve the endgame of virus eradication – or world peace or gun control or the drug war or racism or the obscene economic imbalance – to pretend that we are all equally affected.

Yes, we are all affected. But there is nothing equal about it.

Deborah DeMars Conrad, EdD, is a native of South Carolina and has served as pastor and teacher in many settings — congregational, campus, hospital and community organizations. She states she has long been outspoken about “power, wealth, and our sustainable and just relationships with Earth and each another.” Deb is founder and director of UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville, KY, and she currently serves as Senior Minister of Woodside Church of Flint. 


Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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