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Black Americans Suffering from Two Pandemics Addressing systemic racism In america

By Sara Zakaria

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the disproportionately high death rates among Black Americans from COVID-19 have left many in the Black community grieving, angry and asking hard questions.

Those questions focus on environmental issues, access to health care, immigration, defunding police departments and civic involvement.

Lack of regulation of factories and unequal housing policies are also issues that Black leaders have identified as contributing to the ongoing disenfranchisement of Black communities.

Click here to view interactive graphic. Credit: Sara Zakaria

Derrick Z. Jackson, journalist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the U.S. government needs to hold factories that pollute accountable to address the higher rates of health issues among Blacks. Environmental and governmental factors are also causing the higher rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths among Black Americans, he said.

A step in the right direction would be to “re-energize” the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Jackson. Punishing polluters would decrease fine particle matters that exist in high amounts in Black communities.

The government should also prioritize the concerns of Blacks when addressing the pandemic.

“Perhaps people can raise their voice to a level that the administration will have to do something,” Jackson said. “But the racism that is rampant throughout this administration will make it very tough to really take the concerns of African-Americans and Latinx seriously.”

Racial bias in health care is another contributor to COVID-19’s impact on Black people, according to Netia McCray, founder and executive director of STEM nonprofit Mbadika. McCray says she has experienced racism first hand in the medical industry with coronavirus.

She said she was “actively rejected” by doctors while seeking medical help for COVID-19. She said she was diagnosed only after her symptoms “became dire enough.”

Click here to view interactive graphic. Credit: Sara Zakaria.

McCray says that a Black person who may not be able to seek additional services after being denied help may be unable to get diagnosed and treated effectively.

“If they are telling me they don’t want to treat me when I’m out of breath and near death,” McCray said, “I can imagine recent immigrants who are Black, who don’t have that ability to navigate, are not being counted because you’re not even getting to the point of getting a COVID test.”

Demands to help change systemic racism are gaining popularity, such as defunding the police. Other progressive ideas, such as Medicare-for-all and nationwide fixed income are also being suggested.

McCray said that implementing these ideas along with adequate housing would combat historic systemic disadvantages. The financial instability created during the pandemic also jeopardizes the healthcare of Black Americans, according to McCray.

“If I can’t afford my bills because I’m living paycheck to paycheck and I’ve lost my job, and I’m suffering COVID, my house and shelter is in danger, “ she said.

McCray said that other problems would be addressed more easily if basic rights were protected, as “we’ll be coming from a position of security and everyone can breathe.”

People across the country, and specifically the younger generation, have been participating in protests and raising awareness on social media about the overall systemic racism in healthcare to police brutality.

Harvard University freshman Birukti Tsige is one of many Gen-Z teens getting involved by donating to activist organizations, speaking out on social media, and protesting. Tsige said she supports the idea of defunding the police and allocating the money to areas “that have been defunded for years,” such as education and healthcare.

If Tsige could put a major solution into one word, it would be voting. Tsige says the lack of civic education in school is “doing a disservice to students.” She said its inclusion in the curriculum would result in more involvement with local government.

Birukti Tsige at the White House as a 2019 U.S Presidential Scholar. Photo submitted by Birukti Tsige.

She said she has noticed more civic interest among her peers due to an increase of political awareness in her age group, citing past registration drives hosted in her community of Malden. The “bigger and wider momentum” of youth involvement makes her hopeful for the future.

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Sara Zakaria
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