How the Coronavirus Exposed Systemic Inequalities within the U.S.

While almost every individual has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some manner, certain groups of people have been hit harder than others. Typically marginalized groups in American societies, such as Black people and Native Americans, have higher numbers of cases and deaths than any other groups in the country. Throughout history, racism within the United States has resulted in institutions favoring white males, causing all other groups to experience shortfalls in their everyday lives. Or in the case of the pandemic, a heightened number of cases and deaths.

The Atlantic Article “How the Pandemic Defeated America” by Ed Yong details how both the Black communities and Native American communities in the U.S. bared the blunt of the cases and deaths. Yong points out how institutionalized racism made Black communities predisposed to contracting the virus–privatized health care kept many Black communities from obtaining proper medical treatment, Black citizens are less likely to be believed about their symptoms and therefore they are not properly treated. Black citizens are also typically located in former slave states, which were the quickest to lift social-distancing measures putting more lives at risk.

Native Americans have a similar story as Black people in America. Lack of attention to their communities created conditions predisposing them to the virus (Yong). Their cases are also further heightened by agregate data that lumps them together despite the fast differences among their communities (Carroll et al). This makes the data gathered almost useless to tribal leaders and governments in preventing the spread of the virus. Indigenous communities have been subject to “data terrorism” as well; in order to receive government aid to combat the virus tribal leaders had to submit information including tribal expenses, citizens, and bank account numbers which was then leaked by the U.S. Treasury (Carroll et al). News that tribes could be wiped out didn’t warrant any immediate action by the government either. It only received a small comment from the President containing the dismissive words of “too bad” (Carroll et al).

While systemic racism has reared its head in other forms throughout the time of the pandemic (specifically in Black Lives Matter movements after the killing of George Floyd), it is clearly seen in the disproportion of cases amongst marginalized groups. Other groups have been affected as well–latinos also have a higher rate of infection, women were more likely to lose their jobs, and Asian-americans faced increased episodes of racist attacks.

Dr. Celine Grounder’s podcast Epidemic also discusses how people see these disproportions as the fault of the group’s being effected rather than as a result of how our society put them in a disadvantage at the start of the disease outbreak. This idea of victim blaming shifts the cause of inequalities from historical influences to personal decisions of those suffering, perpetuating and potentially increasing the differences. However, the rise of “mutual aid” where groups focus on providing for those being most affected by the virus (though mutual aid groups are not a new phenomenon) is hopefully indicating a shift that will remain beyond the end of the pandemic (Soden).

The virus has put our societal inequalities on a billboard for the entire world to see. It has provided tangible data that is nearly impossible to refute, but continues to be ignored by policy makers and government officials. However, as a member of Gen Z, I have seen a major shift in the perspective of my generation as we pressure leaders to make changes to end racial injustice as well as take on the pandemic with a more head-strong approach. These facts and perspectives will also be important to remember as the U.S. decides who will take over the pandemic in November, as it could not only decide the fate of those who contract the disease, but the fate of racial institutions in America.

Works Cited

Carroll, Stephanie Russo, et al. “Indigenous Data in the Covid-19 Pandemic: Straddling Erasure, Terrorism, and Sovereignty.” Items, Items, 25 June 2020, items.ssrc.org/covid-19-and-the-social-sciences/disaster-studies/indigenous-data-in-the-covid-19-pandemic-straddling-erasure-terrorism-and-sovereignty/.

PODCAST: EPIDEMIC (30 min), June 5 2020. S1E26 /Indigenous Peoples / Rebecca Nagle, Melissa Begay, and Jamescita Peshlakai.

PODCAST: EPIDEMIC (30 min), April 3 2020. S1E8 /Unequal: Race, Status, and COVID-19 /Jeneen Interlandi and Greg Asbed.

Soden, Robert. “Crisis Informatics and Mutual Aid during the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Research Agenda.” ITEMS, Social Science Research Council. July 2, 2020.https://items.ssrc.org/covid-19-and-the-social-sciences/disaster-studies/crisis-informatics-and-mutual-aid-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-a-research-agenda/

Yong, Story by Ed. “How the Pandemic Defeated America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 6 Aug. 2020, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/09/coronavirus-american-failure/614191/.

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