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  • Aryaan Duggal

The Hidden Racism of COVID-19 Against African Americans

Wynne Stovall-Johnson, a 54-year-old math teacher from Pennsylvania, is one of millions of Black Americans who have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Analyzing the way the United States Government has treated Black people throughout history can help explain why Wynne Stovall-Johnson chose not to get the vaccine. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, while many people have contracted the illness itself, certain racial groups have felt significant indirect social and economic repercussions. Bearing the worst of these repercussions is one specific ethnic group, African Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected members of the African American community through misinformation campaigns, the classist US medical system, governmental incompetence, the economic nature of African American-held jobs, and the racism intertwined in medical professionals.

Due to the lack of overall knowledge about the pathogen, Misinformation campaigns ran rampant during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Misinformation can be deadly when passed off as scientific facts. One such campaign was a social media post on Facebook claiming that increased melanin levels prevented COVID-19, implying that African Americans were essentially immune to the disease. This information was completely false and had to be debunked by Politifact, yet still caused thousands of people to reduce the amount of COVID-19 prevention efforts they were taking. In 2021, there was an almost 10% national reduction in COVID-19 testing and a 400% increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations for African Americans in the United States. The vast majority of these transmissions were people of color who were told they had natural immunity due to their melanin levels. Therefore, there is a correlation between an increase in African American COVID-19-related hospitalizations and the spread of misinformation.

The US medical system is inherently classist. With healthcare costing up to $30,000 for various intensive COVID-19 treatments alone, it is no surprise that millions of Americans simply cannot afford U.S. healthcare and treatment. The majority of low-income people are people of color; therefore, these groups have a lower rate of access to healthcare treatment due to this financial barrier. In some cities, namely Milwaukee, the life expectancy of African Americans is 14 years shorter than their caucasian counterparts as they only earn 50% as much income on average. This highlights the scary reality regarding discrimination and barriers to the U.S. healthcare system which directly affect people of color. This issue was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic as private treatment costs rose immensely, leading to underdiagnosis of COVID-19 and an increased death rate for African American communities by denying them access to vital medical and daily life supplies, creating ‘deserts’ that lacked resources to provide their citizens with. For example, testing became harder to schedule for lower-income persons as many testing sites did not provide adequate coverage in low-income communities. Therefore, these communities experienced many more COVID-19 cases and fatalities.

A history of African American distrust for the U.S. Government has also led to an increase in disproportionate COVID-19 rates for African Americans. Due to the long history of discrimination, slavery, and tortuous practices spanning back to the colonial elite in the early 1800s, African American communities have strongly distrusted the U.S. government. Many African Americans simply refuse to provide personal data and diagnosis information to the FDA and CDC due to the government’s long history of medical racism and racial-based euthanizations in the prior century such as eugenics, medical racism and the Tuskegee study. Although this suspicion of the U.S. government is understandable, this lack of transparency eventually causes harm to the African American community, as the lack of data on this population causes sample biases, which cause incorrect assumptions to be made on the health of this community.

During the pandemic the U.S. government also did not actively engage in strict lockdowns during mid-2020 because they wanted to prevent another recession. Keeping the majority of Americans at work would ensure the delay of an inevitable economic collapse. Therefore, essential jobs were used to keep a large part of the lower and middle-class populations working to avoid a total economic collapse. This blatant disregard for human life and prioritization of capital led to many blue-collar workers, who were mostly African Americans, being forced to essential jobs. This increased exposure inevitably led to an increase in community spread between workers and their families, leading to higher fatality rates in black and other minority communities. In 2022, Black Americans experienced a 6% higher overall fatality rate compared to white people, causing further economic and cultural disruption.

Finally, the inherent racism in the medical field has severely impacted black communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many hospitals are underdiagnosing black patients at higher rates than their white counterparts. Symptoms of COVID-19, along with other illnesses, are still not entirely studied on people of color; therefore, doctors are more likely to incorrectly diagnose patients, leading to an increased fatality rate for many illnesses, including COVID-19. For example, patient Tashonna Ward died after staff at Froedtert Hospital failed to check her vital signs. After arriving at the hospital with chest pain and shortness of breath, Ward’s condition was not properly monitored and her reports were filed late. She was incorrectly sent home and eventually passed away due to a lack of proper treatment. This Milwaukee hospital, located in a primarily black community, has a history of treating patients incorrectly by disregarding patient symptoms and even forgoing patient records. This is simply one of many examples occurring in the United States where black people are not accurately treated in hospitals.

African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which has negatively affected the socio-economic and political states of these communities. As stated numerous times throughout multimedia, coronavirus is not an equalizer; it is an attack on the foundational rights and wellbeing of people of color in the U.S. Unalienable rights do not only include the right to freedom, but also healthcare and medicine; these rights are currently being withheld from African Americans.


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