Racism and The Pandemic

For my second SAMO, I wanted to learn more about the lived experience of Black people living in the United State. Systemic racism has plagued our society by putting Black people at an immediate disadvantage from the second they are born. For my third SAMO, I wanted to further investigate this current issue and see the implications that systemic racism has had on the healthcare industry. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many people’s lives to turn upside, and at the same time, societal differences exacerbated.

While watching the news, I always hear about the dramatic differences in the percentages of death based on race.

1.4x cases, 3.7x hospitalizations, 2.8x deaths

COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community

These statistics disgusted me as both a student as a human being. I was confused at why one group of people were put in the position where they were subjected to be sick, hospitalized, and possibly die than other groups of people.

WHY ARE MINORITIES MORE LIKELY TO GET COVID-19

My first thought on this topic was why Black individuals are more susceptible to get COVID-19. My questioning led me to a webinar, given by Damani Piggott, MD, PHD, who works for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, called COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community. Piggott listed multiple reasons for why Black individuals have a higher rate of infection. I highly recommend this webinar because it was really interesting and gave me an interesting insight to the medical side of the health disparities.

Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socailization explain that, “it is not a coincidence that the United States is suffering from these results today; rather it is a logical outcome of our embracing the status quo, without thinking or challenging” (6). Since we haven’t taken direct action to change very impactful industries, people still act with the disregard for the change that we have made as a society to be more equal.

First, more African Americans hold positions that are considered ‘frontline’ or ‘essential,’ and therefore are put at a higher risk of coming into contact with someone who has Covid. These jobs in the foodservice, transportation, security, environmental management services, healthcare industries, put the people who work tirelessly to keep their jobs at such an uncertain time at a much higher risk to get COVID-19. 

Ability to work at home based on race: Asian 37%, White 29.9%, Black 19.7%, Latinx 16.2%

COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community

Secondly, Black people have an increased rate of underlying health conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and obesity. These facts are often overlooked by healthcare workers. When Black individuals aren’t assisted with the known fact that they can be susceptible to these issues, then that can be a recipe for disaster and can lead to death.

Third, I investigated how long standing social disparities continue to fuel health inequity. These societal disparities include income, employment, housing, food security, education, transportation, incarceration, access to health systems and services. In a medical journal, written by Leonard E. Egede, M.D., and Rebekah J. Walker, Ph.D, called Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19, it mentions how Black americans have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 due to the greater likelihood of living in inner cities with high population density. I recommend giving this journal a read. It isn’t that long but it has a lot of good information about the current implications of our world today.

As a student, I look towards all of this information and I am disappointed. I understand that I am very lucky to be in an area where I have the space to social distance with my peers and the education to teach me how important it is to stay safe. Now when I look at the news and see the high statistics of African Americans contracting COVID-19, I will understand the reasonings for that high number. Instead of jumping to conclusions like the rest of our country could be doing, by taking a step against biases and stereotypes, I researched and learned the true reasons why the numbers were so staggering and I learned that many choices people made were not up to them because they didn’t have many choices offered.

WHY ARE MINORITIES MORE LIKELY TO DIE FROM COVID-19

Next, I began to question why the death rates for Black Americans are so high as compared to Americans of other races. This question took me down the rabbit hole of healthcare inequalities that have sadly become so prevalent in our society. To first understand racism in the healthcare system, I had to understand the difference between racism and placism.

First, an example of racism in the healthcare industry, as explained by J. Nwando Olayiwola in a Ted Talk called Combating Racism and Place-ism in Medicine, is a Black woman being treated worse than a White woman in a hospital. While it can seem surreal to think that a doctor, a person who trained their whole life to help other people, would be so rash and result in hurting people. However, I learned that this mistreatment is actually very common.

– Black women are 3-4x more likely to die from pregnancy than White women

– Black individuals are 50% less likely to have medical intervention when experiencing chest pains

– If a Black baby is being treated by a White physician, they statistically have a higher chance of dying or experiencing complications

– A doctor is more likely to discount or discredit a person’s pain if they are Black rather than White

Next, is placism in the healthcare industry which is widely overlooked. Placism is ignorance of a person’s place on their health. Surprisingly, 80% of a person’s determinant of health is based off of where they live.

In the Ted Talk, Olayiwola explained placism while showing the true implications of placism on the real life expectancies of people in Ohio.

It was insane to see how places that are not that far away from each other have a huge gap in life expectancy. People who lived six miles away from each other had a sixteen year age gap in life expectancy. 


This information didn’t sit well with me. Ross Snyder’s, “The Person Sitting Next to You” claims that, “the person sitting next to you is a cluster of memories of the past and expectations of the future. He is really a whole colony of persons, of people met all during a life.” This literally illustrates the graphic above, just on a larger scale. The person sitting next to you, or more literally, a few miles away from you, is a “luster of memories of the past and expectations of the future,” however, those “memories” and “expectations” may differ dramatically depending on the location that one lives in, even if those locations are very close together.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP CHANGE THIS

It is horrible that some people have to put this lives at risk in order to provide for themselves and their family. Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Liberation, explains the process of liberating one’s self from their previous predispositions and allowing them to grow into a new and more informed person. Harro states, “Often the first part of the process … involves consciously dismantling and building aspects of ourselves and our worldviews based on our new perspectives” (4). Now that I had learned this new information, I had to take action.

I will be sure to use every tool I have available to fight the pandemic. That means wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing, and getting vaccinated when possible. Our actions that we can take as a community can mitigate some of the impacts that the pandemics have on other individuals.

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I learned the true implications that the lack of education can have on the health of Black individuals. Doctors are supposed to be here to help others and fix them. Since some healthcare professionals have not been trained on how to think twice when they see someone’s race or where they are from, we as a community can try to change that custom. We need to force doctors to do no harm and force them to think about it. Below is a suggestion from Combating Racism and Place-ism in Medicine where Olayiwola explained that if doctors had to physically check a button that they didn’t want to change a person’s medication because of her race then that would force them to make the conscious decision to be racist.

When choosing this topic for my SAMO, I knew the numbers were staggering, but I didn’t know why. This door I opened led me down a pathway that forced me to look into every part of the healthcare industry and see why Black individuals were put at such a disadvantage during this pandemic. I now will go into every day understanding how lucky I am to have the choice to come in person to school or to stay home because I now understand that some people want to stay home but can’t in order to pay the bills. Going into conversations in the future, I can now have an understanding of some people’s current experiences and empathize with them. During this pandemic we are all going through hard times and the only way to get through it is to work together. By doing my part by educating myself about other people’s current position, I am just taking a small step towards making society one force that will fight this pandemic together.

As an ally I need to be conscious of these inequalities and be educated in order to have a productive conversation when needed. While I understand that I can never truly speak for the Black community because I have never lived the same experience, I can do my best to educate myself and educate others on the reality of our world and do the best to change it.

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One thought on “Racism and The Pandemic

  1. So now comes the very real world question of… how do you best position yourself to do your best to change the world around you? How do you dig in and find out what to do and how to do it? Clearly reading those 14 pages of your book to find a bigger definition of what racism is necessary, but after all the reading and the TED Talks and numbers, well, then what? If you’re drawn to the medical field, for instance, what kind of impact could you have there? How do we (all) go beyond the conversations to the next step that Harro describes, that process of liberation?

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