Coronavirus is not the great equalizer — race matters

One of the first stories to use race-based data to talk about the risk that Black communities face because of COVID-19 came on March 30 from the Charlotte Observer. The article said Black residents in Mecklenburg County, in Charlotte, N.C., accounted for 43.9 per cent of the 303 confirmed COVID-19 cases locally, but Black residents make up only 32.9 per cent of the county’s population.

More recently, the non-profit investigative journalism site Pro Publica published a story on April 3 based on early data that shows “African Americans have contracted and died of coronavirus at an alarming rate.

Indigenous communities globally have also been speaking about how the new virus may have more devastating impacts on their communities.

The fear and mistrust of health systems expressed by many in Black, Indigenous and racialized communities stem from historical eugenic practices of both governments and individual doctors. These communities have experienced systemic racist violence for generations. They have recently experienced xenophobic responses to COVID-19 and historically, other health crises.

Racialized people may have a fear or mistrust of health care professionals because of historical patterns of abuse. (Yogendra Singh/Unsplash)

I have worked for over 25 years in community health and as a health scholar. I have worked with survivors of trauma who have experienced colonial violence. I am concerned how anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and other forms of intersectional violence will impact the health of our communities during this crisis.

Based on my research, I believe that the actions and omissions of world leaders in charge of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic will reveal historical and current impacts of colonial violence and continued health inequities among African, Indigenous, racialized and marginalized folks.

Recently, I have had discussions about COVID-19 with family, friends and colleagues globally about the impacts of the coronavirus on the health of African, Indigenous, racialized and marginalized folks.

The question often asked is: how will we navigate health systems that continuously violate us? We are talking about those who, like us, live with intersectional social locations, such as race, indigeneity, age, (dis)ability, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, refugee status, class and religion. Will these social factors play an implicit role in health-care workers’ decisions?

Racism impacts your health

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said: “Our government is going to make sure that no matter where you live, what you do or who you are, you get the support you need during this time.” This sounds good in a speech, but how will it be practised in a system that does not provide adequate services for racialized and marginalized communities?

African and Indigenous folks encounter racist health systems that impact their physical, mental, financial and spiritual well-being. To add to this, low-income communities’ ability to protect themselves from COVID-19 is severely restricted, as money is needed to support social distancing, pay bills, buy food supplies and hand sanitizer.

History tells us these disparities increase during stressful times.

Roberta has worked as a consultant for the past X years. Some of her areas of specialization include women abuse; child, youth, and adult violence; intersectional identities, critical expressive arts, multiple oppressions, transgenerational trauma, and resilience/resistance work.

Roberta is Co-Director of Continuing Healing Consultants and has engaged in anti-oppression consulting in the Toronto and global communities since 1997. She is also co-founder and trainer of Anti-Oppression Psychotherapy™.

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