By Leilani Raglin (Estimated reading time: 6 mins)
‘Coronavirus is a social justice issue.’
That is what my mental health therapist said to me a few days after the first outbreak in Seattle. I had come into her office joking about the ‘craziness’ that was ensuing around us. In my mind, people were panicking and blowing the whole thing out of proportion.
What I didn’t think about, and what my therapist graciously and generously held me accountable to, was my own privilege:
- I have the privilege of being a healthy person without pre-existing health conditions. (Black and Brown populations are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions – highlighting notable health disparities in our country).
- I have the privilege of having complete and substantial health insurance and paid sick leave if I were to get sick.
- I have the privilege of being able to physically distance and work from home.
- I have the privilege of having a career where my livelihood and income are not impacted by my having to simultaneously care for my son while working.
- I have the privilege of having internet and technology, allowing me to stay informed about the virus and take measures to prevent infection.
- I have the privilege of having others deliver my groceries and takeout food, reducing my risk of exposure.
- I have the privilege of owning a car so I do not have to take public transit when I do go out, reducing my risk of exposure.
- I have the privilege of living in a single-family household, reducing my family’s risk of exposure.
- And while I am a woman of color, I have the privilege of being non-Black, non-Indigenous, and non-Latinx, which systemically and statistically puts me at an advantage in receiving quality health care if I were to contract the virus.
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
What I realized from that conversation is that my downplaying coronavirus was a defense mechanism which kept me out of the anxiety that was brewing under the surface. And it was only after having that conversation that I allowed myself the space and permission to settle in and think about how I was feeling about everything.
Yes, the anxiety was there. The fear was there. But what I didn’t expect was what came next: feelings of deep sadness and grief.
I didn’t understand where the emotions were coming from until I listened to this podcast episode where grief and loss expert David Kessler mentioned that, across the globe, people were collectively grieving the world as we knew it pre-coronavirus. Our world would never quite be the same again.
Once I was able to finally come to terms with my own experience in this pandemic, I was able to shift out of my own suffering, my own reality, and pay attention to how this pandemic was affecting the world at large.
Thanks to the COVID-19 Racial Data Tracker tool, created in collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, we now have visibility into the wide disparity in health outcomes specifically related to coronavirus. And the outlook is bleak:
- Black and Latinx populations are more likely to work frontline industry jobs, increasing their risk of exposure substantially.
- As of May 20, 23% of coronavirus deaths were Black Americans, even though they only make up 13% of the U.S. population.
- In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Latinx Americans make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater.
- White deaths from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
Although some treat these disparities as a mystery, the underlying reasoning is clear, as is described in this article:
‘There’s a robust body of research indicating that systemic racism and its related stress exact a physical toll that compounds over a lifetime. In the case of Covid-19, these underlying inequities are reinforcing more immediate factors (such as the fact that Black and Hispanic workers are less likely to be able to stay home) that increase exposure to the virus and limit access to care, including testing, which early analyses show has been more accessible in wealthier, whiter communities.’ (Source: Zoë Carpenter, What We Know About the COVID-19 Race Gap)
And, as if a worldwide pandemic disproportionately impacting communities of color was not enough, many of the systemic racial inequities that existed long before coronavirus hit the U.S. have caused many to name institutional racism as ‘the pandemic within the pandemic.’ Several scholars and experts saw this coming (like this eerily accurate Bloomberg opinion published in early April), citing the coronavirus pandemic as the preface to social revolutions, such as the unrest that is currently sweeping our nation (and the world) today:
‘But behind the doors of quarantined households, in the lengthening lines of soup kitchens, in prisons and slums and refugee camps — wherever people were hungry, sick and worried even before the outbreak — tragedy and trauma are building up. One way or another, these pressures will erupt.’ (Source: Andreas Kluth, This Pandemic Will Lead to Social Revolutions)
What experts know about racial and social injustice is that the coronavirus pandemic simply set the stage for the uprising and anger of Black and Brown communities, highlighting racial disparities in our country which can no longer be swept under the rug.
But now is not the time to lose hope. Our country is at a crucial tipping point, like one we have never seen. We have decisions to make, namely: who do we want to be (as a country, as a community, and as individuals) as we emerge from these multiple crises?
Outlined below are a few ways that you can take action to mitigate coronavirus impact to at-risk populations, as well as ways White and non-Black POC allies can take action in the movement for racial justice. Neither of these lists are, by any means, exhaustive, and I encourage you to remain informed to find ways to support both causes if you feel inspired to do so.
Take Action – COVID-19:
- Continue to take precautions to protect yourself and others, even as we reopen our communities.
- Take care of your mental health and help community members cope with stress.
- Continue to find ways to connect with your community while safely social distancing.
- Donate to food banks and other charities.
- Give blood regularly.
Take Action – Black Lives Matter Movement (White and Non-Black POC Allies):
- Do your own (internal) work.
- Find ways to be a true ally in the movement that feels authentic to you.
- Listen, be willing to make and admit mistakes, apologize, and move on.
- Lean into difficult conversations. Get comfortable in your discomfort around talking about race by choosing courage and engaging time and time again.
- Donate to support charities, causes, and victims’ families locally or nationally. Or, if money is tight, sign this petition and other petitions.