By Teka Lark (April 13, 2020)
The Surgeon General, Dr. Adams, stated, to paraphrase, that we people of color (Black people and Latinos) need to lay off the alcohol and healthfully eat so that we won’t die of the COVID-19. People were quite (understandably) outraged, but I also found something similar in the Chicago Defender that also outraged me:
“If it was in place now, it would be issuing nutritional, dietary and lifestyle advice to Blacks that emerging research is beginning to suggest that may minimize the effect of the epigenetic damage.”
Respectability politics sometimes comes dressed in a three-piece suit and other times, it comes dressed in kente cloth. Still, regardless of its uniform, in the end, it blames Black people for our oppression, and it refuses to attack the root cause directly (fewer grants in that).
For many reasons, I don’t like the historical trauma argument. It implies that we’re damaged when we are born and that gives alive racists a get out of jail free card. I’m not willing to do that. I’m not throwing it out, but I feel it’s a dangerous game to play with white institutions, because white institutions are always looking at ways to pathologize Blackness and wiggle out of fixing themselves. Fixing themselves would involve no longer existing.
The disparity in care is a massive problem for Black people. It takes us twice as long to get help, and once we get help, it takes us twice as long to convince medical professionals to understand or rather, care what we ware saying. And once we do all that, we’re dead.
From NPR “All Things Considered” from 2016 Analysis by NYC Health
“Five years of data found that black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.”
This analysis and other studies point to a disparity of care.
Another challenge is that Black people live farther from their jobs. Black people and Latinos typically live farther from work and are farther away from good public transit options. That means Black and Latino people generally are walking more than a mile and transferring at least once to get to work. The 2015 “It’s About Time: The Transit Time Penalty and It’s Racial Implications” study of the Minneapolis and Twin Cities area stated that people of color communities were spending 11-46 more hours a year on their commute than white people.
You lose nearly two days of your life just for not being white.
More time commuting means more time being exposed to illness, disease, and just the elements and being in cold weather in addition to stressful commutes lower the immune system.
Another huge issue for Black people is that we typically work in the public sector and the service industry. In July 2010, the Center for Labor Research and Education released a report examining the state of Black workers in the years 2005 – 2007. It found that the public sector is the most critical source of employment for African Americans, and it is the sector that provides us with the highest paying jobs.
Those jobs include education, transportation, sanitation, the postal service. Even when we have degrees, we’re going to be working with the public, owing to the dynamics of race and access in the US.
In 2020 this is still the case.
Outside the public sector, we work in retail services and parts of the health care sector, including home health aides and nursing home workers, jobs that also expose you to the public.
And also the kind of jobs we have outside the public sector tend to be last hired, first fired. Jobs that you can’t do at home, that are at-will employment.
The cemented institutions of racism is the reason that Black people are disproportionately —exposed and dying from COVID-19.
There are no buts here. There are no if we just…no, it’s structural racism, that’s why and that is the only reason why.
Nelson, A. (2002). Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94(8), 666-8.