JURIST Guest Columnists Khari Mosley, the founder of The Sojourner Group, and Miracle Jones, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at 1Hood Media, discuss the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and the connection to historical discrimination in the US...
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the devastating public health and socio-economic consequences of legalized discrimination in the United States. In many ways for the Black community, this pandemic has become a microcosm of the Black experience in America. Centuries of systemic racism put Blacks at greater risk of mortality from COVID-19 while also being more likely to live in dense segregated housing susceptible to community spread, work in low-wage high-risk occupations on the frontline, or own a shuttered small business that can’t access critical stimulus bank loans. Today, we are witnessing the life and death costs of institutional racism in America play out in real-time.
It has long been argued that the best way to get over racism in America is to stop talking about race. Some argue that focusing on race in America foments racism and bigotry in our society. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has called this theory into question by revealing stark racial disparities in treatment, testing, and death rates that have resulted in unimaginable tragedy for Black people across the United States.
In recent weeks, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), following the lead of local governments, began collecting identifying data on individuals who were testing positive in order to engage in contact tracing and better understand the virus. The data immediately revealed that mortality rates for Black people were disproportionate to their percentage of the population. Across the country urban areas with large Black populations have been decimated by the pandemic.
In St. Louis, nearly all of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 were Black victims. By the middle of April in Chicago, Black people were seventy percent of the deaths. In Milwaukee County, Blacks account for more than half of all COVID-19 cases. In Georgia, Blacks account for eighty percent of hospitalizations and sixty-two percent of COVID deaths. Many keen observers have been noting that Black people are more likely to bear the socio-economic brunt of COVID-19 when the pandemic was originally thought to be a great equalizer of sorts.
The media narrative draws attention to the presence of comorbidities in poor Black communities without proper context of how we arrived at this precarious juncture. The reason the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting Black people is America’s legacy of legalized discrimination that was codified in the law by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Blacks in America have long harbored a deep mistrust of traditional Western medicine and medical investigation. This lack of trust is borne out of racially biased healthcare practitioners, lower rates of insurance coverage, and a history of being subjects to unethical race-based medical research, such as the Tuskegee Experiment. The combination of distrust and discrimination results in Black men having the worst health outcomes of any group in the US, being less likely than their white counterparts to seek medical treatment, and more likely to die prematurely.
This lack of trust presents a perfect storm in the face of a global pandemic that can’t be eradicated without widespread testing, treatment and cooperation with the medical community. While this lack of trust must be addressed, it is important that we also ensure Blacks have equal access to testing and treatment free of racial bias and regardless of health insurance coverage.
Numerous reports from around the country have highlighted stories of Blacks being turned away from testing centers or hospitals when seeking testing or treatment for COVID-19. Some would suggest the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community is a function of lifestyle choices such as poor diet, substance abuse, or other high-risk behaviors. This point of view absolves the system that is most responsible for these health disparities and places the onus on those who have been victims of a legally discriminatory health care system.
In what is known as The Civil Rights Cases, SCOTUS ruled that racial discrimination that impacts every individual the same or that is privatized is legal and outside the boundaries of the Civil Rights Act. That is to say that if a pool owner closes a local pool because he does not want Black people to have access, that discrimination is allowed because no one, including White people, is allowed to access. Additionally, SCOTUS has continually ruled that private institutions are able to create their own rules for membership and accommodations, even if said rules are on the basis of race. These rulings resulted in the direct exclusion of Black people from financing from banks, quality health care, excellent public education, healthy food, and fair housing as many institutions privatized or relocated away from Black areas. The 1976 Supreme Court decision Washington v. Davis further complicated things by establishing that laws with a racially discriminatory effect were legal and constitutional as long they were not created with a discriminatory purpose.
The current public health and socio-economic crises present an opportunity to begin to dismantle the infrastructure of legalized discrimination in the United States. If anything, this critical moment provides us with a clear understanding of the far-reaching devastation caused by the systemic racism that created the environment for this virus to wreak havoc in every corner of the US. As we begin to rid our country of this disease, we must be committed to addressing the root causes of the chilling inequality we are witnessing before our eyes. Not only will we save lives today, but we will forge a safer, healthier, and more equitable future for those who have faced a legacy of legal systemic discrimination in every area of American life.
Khari Mosley attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he studied political science and has worked for over 20 years on non-partisan, advocacy, and candidate campaigns. Khari Mosley is the founder of The Sojourner Group and serves as regional programs manager for the BlueGreen Alliance.
Miracle Jones is a 2018 Graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She works as the Director of Policy and Advocacy at 1Hood Media where she focuses on racial and gender equity and criminal justice issues. She is also a development coordinator with the Pittsburgh Mutual Aid Fund. She has worked in community organizing for a few years through the praxis of racial justice and queer liberation. She is a Pittsburgh transplant through the Atlanta, Ga. and currently resides in the Hill District.
Suggested Citation: Khari Mosley and Miracle Jones, How the Supreme Court Helped COVID-19 Ravage Black America, JURIST – Professional Commentary, May 12, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/mosley-jones-covid-19-black-america/.
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