There are a million reasons why COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting black and brown communities more severely, but do not fool yourself by saying any of those reasons aren’t directly traced to our country’s systemic racism. Every single risk factor that adds up to their folx dying at higher rates is because of racism.
Our country refuses to give black and brown people the same opportunities as white Americans. From the moment my white people stepped foot on this land, we stole it from the indigenous natives, and used enslaved Africans to build the economy and the cities. Then we forced them all to live in condense areas (away from our white families); refused to give them access to clean and safe water and healthy food choices; didn’t offer any opportunities with banks, business and personal loans, or housing; provided minimal to no access to healthcare (especially primary care which aids in prevention of all of the underlying diseases that make them more at risk); and we unleashed our racist police on them. Every day they are living in extreme stress and struggling to get through the day while worrying that they or their children will be murdered by the police.
There is a wealth of evidence that speaks to the health of Black Americans being severely impacted by our country’s systemic racism. The term “weathering” was originally a hypothesis focused on Black American women and their poor health stemming from socioeconomic racism. This hypothesis is now backed by much more research and encompasses not only Black women – we see diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease is extremely prevalent in our black and brown communities. These are all underlying conditions that make COVID-19 much more deadly.
And as if our discrimination and racism severely impacting their health, wellness, and ability to thrive wasn’t enough, you also get to add a heap of distrust and disbelief of the medical community. Black Americans have been unethically used in clinical trials as recently as the 1990s. While working as a clinical research nurse in Detroit, I saw this distrust firsthand. It was near impossible to even discuss clinical trial options for my Black patients that were dealing with untreatable breast cancer. They were very eager to inform me that they would be used as a guinea pig, no matter how much I assured them that we operate under much more strict and ethical guidelines. And clinical trials aside, there are never ending piles of examples of Black folx receiving subpar healthcare when they do ask for help. They are told their pain isn’t as severe, or their complaints are not believed at all leaving them to die when issues like pulmonary embolisms could have been prevented. This is to say that it is not shocking that some members of their community don’t believe the severity of what is happening and they don’t believe what the government and doctors are saying because in their experience, the government and doctors have always lied to them.
I know that this is not new information. You are probably reading this thinking, yeah, but what can we do to help? Well, because most of us aren’t on the front lines, we have to rely on education. We have to keep pushing the information on all of our social media that this is REAL and this is DEADLY. And education means continually repeating the information. A nursing instructor once told me that even if I was the 1000th medical professional to teach a patient something, it may be that I am the one that helps the patient retain it.
Unfortunately, a lot of these communities (e.g., Detroit, New Orleans) already know that this is real because they are the ones experiencing the death already – my family in Detroit know people in their community that have been diagnosed with or have already died from COVID-19. Still, we need to keep reminding everyone to STAY HOME if possible; that the people that don’t live in your house cannot come over, even if they are your family; wash your hands before and after doing every and anything; wear a mask if you MUST go outside (and teach them how to properly wear it and take it off). We are in a situation where the only way to help others is the same way we can help ourselves: PREVENTION.