COVID19 shows the USA’s historical inequalities are still with us.

Disproportional death rates reveal America’s embedded racial and socio-economic inequalities, the time is now for redress, says Irene Qi.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are experiencing a rare moment of unity. However, despite being billed as the ‘great-leveller,’  its effects are far from equal. Through socio-economic and racial disparities in COVID19 statistics, our nation’s hierarchies and the need for deep reform have become glaringly clear.

All across the country, we have been feeling the effects of the health crisis as unemployment skyrockets, schools transition to online classes and social distancing becomes the norm. Much-anticipated events, from the Olympics to Coachella have been either delayed or cancelled. 

A little less than a century ago, the Great Depression similarly jolted American society. Many Americans were reduced to waiting in bread lines after getting laid-off from closing businesses. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the New Deal legislation, an unprecedented reform package, that created massive public works programs, increased the rights of labour unions, imposed stricter regulations on big businesses and established Social Security.

FDR’s contribution to the formation of a modern welfare state was absolutely necessary, but as the COVID19 pandemic illustrates, it was not enough. Despite the seemingly unifying impact of the virus, ramifications remain disproportional. 

Racial inequalities in COVID19 death rate
Data source:.”Why Coronavirus Is Killing African-Americans More Than Others.” The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2020

These statistics, reported by the New York Times, reveal an unsettling truth about American society. Systemic racism was built into the very foundations of our country, rooted in its institutions. It can be starkly observed in the demographics of the COVID19 death toll, and is especially stark in Southern states.

Before the Civil War, African Americans’ darker skin marked them as enslaved; after, it marked them as sharecroppers and industrial labourers. The American capitalist system remained one where whites were the dominant and authority figures. And when suburban neighborhoods and houses with white picket fences became popular, black people, once again, found themselves excluded. 

This foundation is ingrained in American society. Decades of discriminatory policies and structural racism, mean people of colour suffer disproportionately from poverty, underlying ailments, lack of access to healthcare and poor neighborhood environments. The concentrated housing and poverty of black communities means black people are more likely to catch COVID19, and  have pre-existing health conditions that make coronavirus more fatal. Furthermore, their overrepresentation in the service industry both “reflects a history of racially segmented labour markets that kept them at the bottom of the economic ladder” and increases their contact with the virus.

These statistics reveal our nation’s hierarchies and the need for deep reform. As the economy nosedives and we face the uncertainties of whether our situation will devolve into another depression or not, one factor is clear: Donald Trump is no FDR.

What we as Americans need are structural reforms that rewrite the unequal foundations of our nation. We need reforms that emphasise equity and reforms that uplift those who have been systematically kept at the bottom of society. In this time of adversity, it is crucial that we embody the leaders of our past, grasping the opportunity to build upon our country’s ideals of equality and proving that the United States is truly a nation dedicated to the pursuit of justice and liberty for all.

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COVID19 shows the USA’s historical inequalities are still with us.

by Irene Qi Reading time: 2 min