The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt people of color in the United States, with recent data indicating that Black people suffer the highest numbers of coronavirus deaths around the country relative to population size. While politicians are feigning alarm at the shocking racial disparities only now being reported by the media, such disparities should come as no surprise. They result from structural racism, which manifests in all aspects of life: housing, testing, employment, sickness, incarceration, discrimination, and much else.
Some of the most criminal aspects of racialized health outcomes include the following:
Housing and homelessness. Black people have always been overrepresented in the U.S. homeless population, and today they make up 50 percent of homeless families. Lack of access to shelter makes staying “in place” difficult or impossible. Lack of access to health care due to lack of insurance, and lack of access to clean water and food have dire consequences for the homeless, and now this means that they are also more likely to be exposed to the virus and to receive no treatment when they get sick with COVID-19.
Lack of testing. The affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles County currently have higher positive rates than others because wealthy people can get tested more easily than poor and working-class people. In the Brown and Black working-class city of Lancaster, California, a 17-year-old was turned away from being tested because he didn’t have insurance; he died soon after.
Precarious jobs. A high percentage of low-wage and precarious jobs are filled by Black and Latino people. Those jobs have offered less protective equipment as well as little to no sick time and sick pay. The meager pay means workers who have lost their jobs or are forced to work fewer hours will have a harder time paying for already-overpriced rent and food.
Chronic illness. Because so many Black people suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, they are more likely to succumb to the coronavirus. Access to healthy food has been systematically kept from Black people from the time of slavery to the present day’s “food deserts,” where smaller stores carrying junk food and little produce replace stores that sell a variety of healthy food.
Racism in health care. There are deep racial inequalities in health outcomes in the United States. For instance, while Black women have lower rates of breast cancer, they die from it more often than other groups because Black people’s health concerns are often ignored by medical professionals, leading to delays in treatment. People of color, especially recent immigrants, are less likely to be covered by insurance and often fear going to the hospital due to the threat of deportation or exorbitant medical bills. Such factors contribute to higher deaths rates for nonwhite communities.
People locked in cages. Even before the virus, jails, prisons, and ICE detention centers have had a majority Black and Latino people crammed together with substandard health care. For years, concerns have been raised about how substandard health care and poor sanitary conditions have helped spread infectious diseases in the prison system. In Chicago’s Cook County jail over 270 inmates have contracted COVID-19, and the number continues to rise. The United States has more people in the carceral system than any other country in the world! Racist criminal justice, coupled with overcrowding, means more Black and Brown people die from COVID-19.
ICE and coronavirus. Attacks on immigrants are nothing new. Both Republican and Democratic Party administrations have routinely rounded up immigrants and immigrant children in detention centers. People of all ages, ethnicities, and genders have died in ICE custody because of the horrendous health conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that. Recently, four children tested positive for coronavirus, prompting a judge to release them. There are, however, thousands of children in detention centers throughout the United States. We demand their immediate release!
Increased discrimination. Since the outbreak in Wuhan, there has been an increase in racist violence particularly toward Asian people, who have been blamed for spreading the virus. President Trump has repeatedly called coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” a phrase that has provided political cover for bigots and spurred violence against anyone perceived as Asian in the United States and abroad. Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people have been victims of attacks, particular elderly people and women.
Racism is one of the oldest methods of capitalist domination. From the genocide of native people to the mass enslavement and importation of Africans; from “Operation Wetback,” in which up to 1.3 million Mexican workers were deported in the 1950s, to the Chinese Exclusion Act 70 years earlier, U.S. elites and their corporate-controlled governments have always brutalized and disregarded the working masses, most especially Black, Brown, and Asian people and many oppressed groups. Today, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated and exposed that racist reality once again, as oppressed people are hit the hardest and are dying the quickest.
Capitalism and capitalist governments have nothing to offer working class and oppressed people but death and misery. But the multiracial working class has the power to transform society, to begin the work of ending racism and oppression, to finally, once and for all, create a society of equality and abundance. As we see today, workers have gone on general strikes in defense of safety, are demanding production be prioritized to meet human need, and in some cases are questioning the need for bosses completely.
Racist capitalism is a disease; workers and oppressed people fighting back is the cure.