Too often the rhetoric around coronavirus has been the “the virus does not discriminate.” However, society itself discriminates, and that underlying, structural discrimination causes real impacts as the pandemic progresses.
The fact that race and ethnicity were not tracked as part of the initial Minnesota Department of Health strategies may have put us on especially poor footing to react to this crisis in a culturally responsive way. As it stands as I write this, there are nearly as many coronavirus cases where race is not known as there are among white Minnesotans (3,600 vs. 3,667). There are almost as many again cases among people of color (3,523), accounting for nearly a third of cases, while people of color account for only 20.1% of our population, according to state demographic figured from 2017. Looking at COVID-19 deaths, we see these disparities again. White Minnesotans are 79.9% of our state population, while they account for 66% of COVID-19 deaths.
As a Master of Social Work candidate, I have seen how social determinants of health play out in the daily lives of the clients I work with and for in my internships. Where people of color predominantly live, what types of jobs we hold, and other environmental factors that are built upon generations of inequality put us in a position to bear the greatest burden of all in this crisis.
Systems in the United States are failing us as people of color, even more now than they have in the past. Is this the heartbreaking rallying cry for all society’s most vulnerable and marginalized to tear the system down and rebuild anew?