As COVID-19 infections spread across the United States in early March, the false notion of black immunity to the novel coronavirus spread with it.
When states began releasing the racial data of coronavirus cases and deaths, a painful irony was realized; black people are contracting and dying from the virus at disproportionately higher rates.
In a report released by the CDC, black people comprised 33% of hospitalized COVID-19 cases but only made up 18% of their sample size, revealing disparities on a national scale. In Michigan, black people comprise 33% of coronavirus cases and 41% of deaths.
When I heard this, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
Systemic racism in the United States has made it so African Americans are less likely to have healthcare, less likely to have a job which allows you to follow social distance practices and more likely to have preexisting conditions.
In 2017, 55.5% of African Americans had private health insurance and 43.9% used Medicaid or public health insurance according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. This is compared to 75.4% of whites with private insurance and 33.7% on Medicaid or public health insurance.
Even with insurance, high copays and other expenses discourage people from regularly seeing a doctor. The African American community is less financially equipped to deal with these costs. In 2018 the median household income was $41,511 for African American households compared to $67,937 for white households.
Without regular doctor visits and a priority on maintaining health, health in African American communities has faltered. In combined data from 2015 to 2017, African American communities have the highest rates of obesity (38.4%), according to the CDC.
COVID-19 is just acting upon divisions that have been building for generations.
One night I received a text from a friend expressing her worry after reading black people were dying at higher rates from COVID-19. Intentionally or unintentionally, she revealed her understanding that my blackness somehow made me more susceptible to the virus.
This understanding couldn’t be farther from the truth. At its core, the thought is the same as the belief that black people are somehow immune to the virus, just in reverse. It ignores and further perpetuates the deadly realities of systemic racism in the United States.
Governor Whitmer announced a task force to investigate the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths on April 9.
This is a start but the reality is simple: if we don’t take this opportunity to realize the realities of racism, it will prevail, as it always does, unbeknownst to those who don’t experience its effects on a daily basis.