Diego Rivera is a Master’s candidate in environmental science and management and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Last week, the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion sent out an email to all students urging that in these uncertain times, we must stick together as a community and continue the fight against xenophobia and racism.
This email is appropriate on the surface level regarding increasing attacks and racist remarks directed at people of Asian descent. Yet, one sentence in the email really stuck out to me: “The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted and ended the lives of people worldwide, not discriminating by race or national origin.”
The virus may not discriminate itself; however, our healthcare system does. In the United States, people of color are disproportionately affected by the virus because systematic racism has lead to inequities in healthcare, controlling access and quality of care that each individual receives. The pandemic starkly illuminates just how sharp the racial divide is in the United States.
This is a very important issue for the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion to be cognizant of on a campus with a long history of diversity issues.
The question that arises then, is how exactly does a virus show America’s deep racial divide?
To start to answer that question, one needs to look at some pretty shocking numbers. The virus disproportionately affects people of color.
In Michigan, one of the hotbeds of the outbreak, only 14% of the population is Black, yet they account for 33% of infections and 40% of deaths, according to Michigan’s state website.
In Wisconsin, the Black community makes up an even smaller portion of the population at 6%, yet comprise 24% of infections and 36% of deaths according to the state’s Department of Health Services. These are two states that are overwhelmingly white (87% in Wisconsin, and 79% in Michigan according to the United States Census), yet the people that are bearing the brunt of this crisis and dying at unacceptable rates are Black people in urban centers like Milwaukee and Detroit.
The most shocking numbers are in Louisiana, where Black individuals make up 32% of the population but account for 60% of the deaths, according to Louisiana’s Department of Health. And these statistics do not encompass all people of color, only the Black community.
And what about Native Americans? The Navajo nation alone has climbed to 1,197 cases recently, tallying more deaths in one tribe than the number of deaths in 13 other states according to the Navajo Times.
I could hit you over the head all day with numbers that show how these three minority groups are taking the brunt of this pandemic in the United States, but that doesn’t answer why this is the case.
The why boils down to systemic issues in the United States. These three groups were already disproportionately affected by poverty before the virus hit, especially in urban areas where the numbers of these minority groups tend to be higher.
Our healthcare system links the possibility of adequate care with job status and personal wealth; with our economic shutdown, the virus has only served to exacerbate this already difficult situation for many individuals. One of the more inexpensive coronavirus tests costs $150, which is more than 10% of the $1200 federal relief check individuals may be receiving as far as one month down the road. How can one person who may find themselves sick even begin to think about shelling out that much money when their rent has not been frozen, bills still need to be paid, and food needs to be put on the table?
In New York, the hardest hit zip codes have annual incomes of about $30,000 a year and are a majority Latinx or Black, while the zip codes with the lowest rates of infection range in incomes from $200,000 to $600,000 a year and are a majority white, according to Time.
In the west, Native Americans are fighting this battle on their own as hospitals and the healthcare system on reservations are chronically underfunded, yet receive no media attention compared to other racial groups or geographical areas. Even basic needs like water are horribly neglected by the federal government; the guidelines to wash hands require 20 seconds of continuous water, yet as many as 175,000 Navajo nation residents have to haul their water from a facility that is closed 3 days a week during this pandemic.
These statistics on Black, Latinx, and Native American people only scratch the surface about how neglected they are in all aspects of life in the United States, from healthcare to welfare. There are hundreds of articles outlining exactly what is happening throughout the country describing how these minorities face a horrible war of attrition, while privileged people endanger others to storm city hall in states like Minnesota and California, ignorant of the carnage that is taking place in hospitals and communities.
Although I’m sure the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion means well in attempting to combat xenophobic language, they diminish all minority groups that are navigating this hell that does discriminate.
I would hope that this Office of Diversity would be more sensitive to the current events that are affecting people like me and plenty of other students in the future instead of sending out a boilerplate email and not even bothering to look into the words they write in them. I’ve seen the campus climate surrounding race and have been affected by it, and to me, to see those words that are patently false — that this virus does not discriminate — just makes me feel let down yet again.