Inequalities are Killing Black Americans in the United States
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury, Philandro Castile, Treyvon Martin, Eric Garner, and the hundreds of other innocent black men and women that are killed annually it seems, at times, hard to continue. Hard to wake up every day knowing that systematic racism still very much so exists and even thrives in the United States of America (U.S.). It is hard to acknowledge that simply because of your skin color you have an astronomically higher chance of living in poverty and being incarcerated and/ or killed by the police. Hard to understand that in the 21st century, people are still treated as second class citizens due to the degree of melanin in their skin.
In the wake of their deaths, it can and has been easy to push the threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) aside. This is obvious when looking at the news cycle. Top networks feeds are no longer filled with health experts and presidential warnings, but rather hours and hours of protests and calls to action. Across the world, people have taken to the streets after seeing the police commit injustice after injustice against the black community. Hundreds of thousands of people in Berlin, Sydney, Seoul, Tel Aviv, and across every single state in the U.S. peacefully marched to make their voices heard. To us at Young Leaders for Health, this is amazing. This is valiant. This is history. But it must be made clear there are other major plights black Americans face because of their skin color that need to be fought for. One of which is the disproportional rate in which black Americans are being hospitalized for and dying from coronavirus.
The systematic racism in the veins of the U.S. American society runs deep. It not only affects whether or not a person is likely to be profiled by the police, but it impacts where a person lives, the type of food that is available to them, their ability to obtain a quality education, and the likelihood they will have access to affordable medical care, especially when it comes to mental health care.
It is a proven fact that having a preexisting condition makes one more likely to become seriously ill, if not die from the coronavirus. Unfortunately, because of the conditions many black American men, women, and children have been relegated to endure, they have a higher chance of developing a potentially life-threatening pre-existing condition. In fact, black Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 years old are twice as likely to die from heart disease than their white counterparts. Additionally, from the ages of 35 to 64, black Americans are 50% more likely than Caucasians to have high blood pressure. To further reiterate this point, black Americans also have a higher likelihood of dying from a stroke and diabetes (Anon, 2017).
Many of these preexisting conditions can be traced back to the community black Americans were raised in. Unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and obesity are all more common in black American communities (Anon, 2017). This is not due to a genetic predisposition blacks face, but rather it is caused by inequality in the U.S. American system. Due to historical racial policies in the United States such as segregation, red lining, and systematic voter suppression, blacks have been consistently treated as second class citizens and therefore given second class care. An example of this is food deserts. In these areas, it is virtually impossible to find healthy and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables for a reasonable price. Not surprisingly given the tone of this article, they are more common in minority communities than their white counterparts. Only 8% of the black population lives in a census tract with a supermarket compared to 31% of whites, fueling the consumption of ultra-processed foods which are typically high in sodium, sugar, and preservatives (Tolerance, 2020). In turn, this contributes to higher rates of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
In addition to lacking access to a balanced diet, many black Americans have disrupted access to affordable high quality medical care. To begin, as of 2018 9.7% of black Americans were uninsured. Many of which claimed this was due to high costs. The average annual healthcare cost for a blackAmerican family is 20% of the household income. This amount is astronomical in comparison to white American families, who on average spend 11% of the family income on healthcare. Furthermore, for those black Americans who can afford the high costs of insurance, over 15 million are underinsured. This means while they are technically insured, they pay unusually high out-of-pocket costs which can and often does result in a significant financial burden (Taylor et al., 2020). These tremendous costs result in a resistance to seek out medical care for issues they deem less significant or life-threatening, which strains the body over time.
The issues described above only barely break the surface when discussing the disparities black Americans face when it comes to living a healthy life. Given this, it is no surprise that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected many black communities. To make matters clear, 33% of the population of the United States hospitalized due to coronavirus are black despite the black American community only making up 18% of people in the country (Anon, 2017). This means that blacks are almost twice as likely to be hospitalized due to this virus than their demographics would indicate. This is unacceptable. People should not be dying at a disproportionate rate due to the color of their skin. The United States of America has been dubbed ‘the land of the free where the streets are paved with gold and everyone has an equal shot at a successful, fulfilling life,’ but this is not the case.
While, for some, this article may be uncomfortable to read, it is important that these injustices are addressed. Systematic racism, in the United States and many other countries across the world, is deeply ingrained. The only way this unjust system will eventually be overturned is by educating oneself and others, and supporting policy changes, aiming to make this world a more equitable one. While it may be ‘uncomfortable’ at times, it is crucial that the more advantaged members of the community, like the white population, stand up for minorities who have historically been given the short end of the stick. By engaging in action, hopefully, we can create a more equal world in which men, women, and children are not needlessly dying because of the color of their skin.
Young Leaders for Health (YLH) continues to be committed to the creation of universal health care and the more equitable distribution of medical resources to those who are less privileged. In order to contribute to achieving our vision - that of a healthy, inclusive, equitable and accountable society - free of structural discrimination - that peacefully coexists with nature, we will be releasing a set of articles in addition to our webinar series on COVID-19 and its effects on Mental Health.
*It is important to acknowledge that both racism and systemic racism exist outside of the United States of America, and in no way, shape, or form does this article mean to imply it does not. However, for the sake of making a concise statement, this article will only be addressing this issue in relation to the United States of America. Alexandra Lanzetta Young Leaders for Health References: Anon, 2020. COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html [Accessed June 11, 2020].
Anon, 2017. African American Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aahealth/infographic.html [Accessed June 11, 2020].
Taylor, — J. et al., 2020. Racism, Inequality, and Health Care for African Americans. The Century Foundation. Available at: https://tcf.org/content/report/racism-inequality-health-care-african-americans/?agreed=1 [Accessed June 11, 2020].
Tolerance.org. 2020. Food Desert Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/desert%20stats.pdf> [Accessed 11 June 2020].