What does it mean to be Black in America during a pandemic?

Well, it means to live in constant fear.


With the global spread of the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), this novel virus has underscored the dire need to re-evaluate our healthcare systems globally. For the United States of America (USA), COVID-19 has not only highlighted the inadequacy of our health systems, but also in the many other systems that have made our country “great”.


Since the start of this public health crisis, the USA has suffered greatly with COVID-19, mainly due to the lack of leadership and transparency from the government. According to data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), the USA has >30,000,000 cases and >555,000 deaths due to COVID-19. (Dong, Du, and Gardner, 2020). With one of the world’s highest burden of this infectious disease, the USA has been made an example of what a country shouldn’t do during a pandemic.


For Black Americans in the USA, COVID-19 has been one of the many issues exacerbated by the structural discrimination we face, creating wider socioeconomic disparities and health inequities in comparison to more privileged populations (Williams and Rucker, 2000). In our enduring battles with racial discrimination, police brutality, redlining, environmental racism and more, being Black in America has always been full of strife and struggle.


With the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in the early months of 2020, it finally occurred to the world that racial bias against Black people is not just some made up concept.

With the demonstrations that took place across 50 states and around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 (a movement that started in 2013), it is as if the COVID-19 pandemic became the cherry on top of the icing to a poorly structured cake, representing the continuous and systematic oppression of Black and Brown communities in the USA. The ecosocial theory, as proposed by Nancy Krieger (2012), best explains how the embodiment of this oppression experienced over the life course adversely affects the health of these marginalized communities through social and economic deprivation.


The reality is that in the USA, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities are 3x times more likely to be exposed to COVID-19, be hospitalized due to COVID-19, and face mortality due to COVID-19 (Morial et al, 2020).


These specific communities of color are at an increased risk because of the socioeconomic deprivation they are faced with as marginalised populations.

As these racial/ethnic minority groups are more likely to leave the house to work as they take on essential worker roles ("frontline", grocery stores, transportation, etc.), live in crowded conditions/multigenerational households, etc., they are inevitably put at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 (Lopez, Hart, and Katz, 2021). Additionally, these groups suffer from higher rates of non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease compared to their White counterparts (Graham, 2015). As we have learned from this pandemic, having an existing condition increases a person’s risk for facing serious complications and mortality due to COVID-19 infection.


More recently, a sharp increase in discriminatory behaviours against AAPI (Asian-American and Pacific Islander) populations has been seen in the USA and other countries across the globe. For the USA, the probable cause of this spark can be attributed to not only comments made by the popular political leaders, but also as a manifestation of the USA’s long and dark history of discrimination against AAPI populations. By referring to the novel coronavirus as the “China virus”, “Chinese Virus”, “Kung Flu” and other incredibly offensive variations of this ignorant blaming and naming, D*n*ld Tr*mp’s bigotry promoted violence against yet another race of people across the USA.


This pandemic has not only spotlighted the racial bias that is rampant in our communities and the failing healthcare system, it also clarified the priorities in our country:


“What about our economy?!”
“We need to open the country! We can’t live like this forever!”
“People will have to die, and I know that’s a terrible thing to say but…”
“Businesses are losing money, and something needs to be done about it.”
“I need a haircut!”
“Our kids need to go back to school and I need to go back to work.”

These were the types of remarks that were being made by celebrities, politicians, and American citizens on social media/news channels? in their concerns about how we would to keep capitalism and consumerism booming while mass graves were being dug to bury the hundreds of thousands of Americans that have lost their lives to this vicious virus.


Additionally, the global rise in misinformation related to the pandemic seems to have played a key role in how we as a people view and choose to handle the virus:

“Well, the flu kills more people every year....I think we should consider natural herd immunity. We should let it run it’s course and see what happens.”

(Agley and Xiao, 2021)


Above are the types of remarks being made by, in some cases, even medical doctors with no relevant background or expertise, on the severity of this crisis and how we should try to handle the virus. It seems that when people begin to have their “freedom” challenged, they become internet scientists. Obsessively reading and absorbing every word they read online, no matter where the words are coming from.


As postulated by biomedical organizations and institutions globally, COVID-19 is a virus that is likely to remain active in human populations for quite some time and it is important that we work together in our communities to actively decrease its spread. While we leave it up to the experts to continue studying and researching the virus, as well as vaccinating people against and treating people for COVID-19, we as citizens should also do our part by continuing to wear our masks, washing our hands and using hand sanitizers, physically distancing ourselves, and highly considering being vaccinated in order to progress ourselves in the efforts to return back to “normalcy”.


To fight racism, discrimination, and a virus during a public health crisis, means to recognize the shortcomings of our systems to actively re-narrate and re-envision justice, healing, activism, and collectively to promote health equity and social justice in all of our communities. (Iwai, Khan, and DasGupta, 2020).


Contact the author: @nanaa_from_ghana

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Identity International.

Agley, J., Xiao, Y. Misinformation about COVID-19: evidence for differential latent profiles and a strong association with trust in science. BMC Public Health 21, 89 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-10103-x


Ensheng Dong, Hongru Du, Lauren Gardner, An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 20, Issue 5, 2020, Pages 533-534, ISSN 1473-3099, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30120-1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1473309920301201


Graham G. (2015). Disparities in cardiovascular disease risk in the United States. Current cardiology reviews, 11(3), 238–245. https://doi.org/10.2174/1573403x11666141122220003


Iwai, Y., Khan, Z. H., & DasGupta, S. (2020). Abolition medicine. Lancet (London, England), 396(10245), 158–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31566-X


Krieger N. (2012). Methods for the scientific study of discrimination and health: an ecosocial approach. American journal of public health, 102(5), 936–944. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300544


Lopez L, Hart LH, Katz MH. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Related to COVID-19. JAMA. 2021;325(8):719–720. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.26443


Morial, M. H., Jones, V., Stankey, J., Cooper, L. A., Murphy, T., Aderonmu, F., 2020, State of Black America, Unmasked, National Urban League, https://soba.iamempowered.com/2020-executive-summary


Williams, D. R., & Rucker, T. D. (2000). Understanding and addressing racial disparities in health care. Health care financing review, 21(4), 75–90.




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