By Sandra Harris
As the coronavirus outbreak continues in the US, Black people have suffered disproportionately, whether it be from repressive social control measures enforced by the police, lack of healthcare access, or economic hardship. While the health effects are caused by the virus, the underlying economic conditions that affect primarily Black, working-class communities increase the odds of both exposure and death.
Black people are overrepresented in the total number of those infected and dying from COVID-19. In cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, they make up 70-80% of the coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, the largest population of cases outside of the Northeast, more than 70% of the people who have died so far were Black, despite making up only a third of the state’s population.
Black people are more likely to be working in industries deemed “essential” such as healthcare, transportation, and food supply. While they work in jobs where they are more susceptible to contracting disease, these jobs are also less likely to come with health insurance, sick pay, or other basic protections for workers.
Due to economic and environmental conditions, Black people are also more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. These conditions weaken the lungs and immune system, increasing vulnerability to COVID-19.
Racism permeates the US healthcare system; Black people are less likely to be taken seriously by a doctor which exacerbates these health inequities while inconsistent testing for coronavirus has been prioritized for wealthier people.
The ruling class enlists the police to control and weaken the will of the working class to fight back, and particularly to enforce economic stratification of the Black working class. Mass mobilizations such as Black Lives Matter, which fizzled under reformist, bourgeois leadership, have done little to stem the tide of racist policing, and the pandemic has only brought this oppression into sharper relief.
In Philadelphia, a video emerged of multiple police officers dragging a Black man off of a public bus for not wearing a mask. The bus system had issued a mandate for all riders to wear a mask, although many people expressed confusion over the policy. After the incident went viral, the city’s bus system revised their requirement, “urging” people to wear masks to limit the public relations backlash.
Politicians and government officials have continued to place the blame on individuals for not “taking the disease seriously” instead of providing for people in need during this crisis.
During a White House briefing on April 10, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Michael Adams, himself Black, singled out Black and Latino people, telling them to stop drinking, smoking, or doing drugs to protect those who are most vulnerable. His remarks perpetuate racist stereotypes and blame oppressed peoples for their suffering rather than the US government, which has failed in containing the virus itself and the economic crisis exacerbated by the outbreak.
While many claim that the coronavirus does not discriminate, the disproportionate rates of infection and death suffered by Black people expose the role of capitalism’s stratification of the working class in the outbreak. This is not simply a struggle between humans and nature, it must be a struggle against the economic system which creates and perpetuates these conditions.