Racism and Classism During a National Pandemic: Will America Ever be the Same Again?

By: Jordan Rhodes

 The COVID-19 virus has forced countries all over the world to adopt unprecedented responses to restrict the spread of the disease. As the virus has reached the United States, most if not all Americans have been impacted in some way or another. There has always been a line in the sand dividing the American experience based on things like race and class. However, this pandemic has already furthered that divide by emphasizing how pronounced and deep those lines in the sand truly are.

We are now desperately relying on food industry employees that have historically worked for minimum wage and continue to do so even as they put their own health at risk. There are young students that cannot afford Wi-Fi that are now required to complete their public school education from home. There are children with disabilities that no longer have access to their school-sanctioned therapy. And there is an entire class of people that can literally not afford to stay home from work to “shelter in place” like so many local government ordinances currently require. Even in these general examples that are outside of the health care system, Americans are experiencing this virus differently based on social class. And these differences are amplified once other factors like race are considered.

Recent studies have exposed the way this virus continues to impact Black Americans disproportionally in comparison to other racial groups. For example, Black people are getting infected at a higher rate, are experiencing greater sickness and also have a higher mortality rate. Specifically, a recent report based on the data currently available found that majority-black counties had infection rates three times greater than the rate of majority-white counties. In New York, Black people make up 9% of the state population but 17% of the total deaths from the virus. Not to mention the ways the virus is currently raging through prisons and jails all across the country, which disproportionately consist of Black and Brown individuals.

So, what should the country make of these disparities’ and where do we go from here? For discernable reasons, this is a question without a solitary answer. However, one approach many have taken is to push for greater transparency from the federal government. Transparency in death and infection rates, transparency in how regulations are implemented, and transparency in our nation’s many prisons and jails all help prevent the government from creating a false narrative surrounding the virus.

These last few months have showcased the many inequalities and disparities that have plagued this country for decades. Will these hard drawn lines in the sand continue to further divide our individual experiences? Or will this pandemic provide the necessary momentum to usher in antiracist and other progressive policies? We may not be able to change the past, but we can certainly set ourselves up to learn from the present so that we are more equip to influence the future.

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