While the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the pre-existing fractures and inequalities in our society, it has also revealed the inherent interdependency of our lives. We can see now more than ever that the health and safety of our society is inextricably connected to the health and well-being of us all. By facing the structural racial inequities revealed in this pandemic, we can develop and implement creative solutions that will make us a better, healthier, and more just society now and in the future.

“It’s important to target the minority communities, especially in urban areas where you know there are structural inequalities . . . a population that truly needs [an] all hands on deck effort to help protect them …”

Dr. Poonam Alaigh, Former Commissioner of Health and Senior Services of New Jersey

Reports have revealed the stark racial disparities in the prevalence and death rate of COVID-19. In Milwaukee, WI Black people comprise only 26% of the population but are 73% of COVID-19 deaths. A similar pattern follows in Chicago, Illinois–where Black people comprise 32% of the population, but represent 67% of COVID-19 deaths–and the rest of the country. The differences in vulnerability to the pandemic reflect larger structural inequalities in the economy, housing, criminal justice, and health care delivery systems rather than biological differences or cultural difference in the value of health. Our ability to respond adequately to this public health crisis requires an understanding that “many health-related factors previously attributed to culture or ethnicity also represent the downstream consequences of decisions about larger structural contexts, including health care and food delivery systems, zoning laws, local politics, urban and rural infrastructures, structural racisms . . . .”1

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Read the full brief for a detailed explanation of the interrelation of structural racism and the impact of COVID-19 and for potential remedial steps to address the crisis. 

1 Jonathan M. Metzl & Dorothy E. Roberts, Structural Competency Meets Structural Racism: Race, Politics, and the Structure of Medical Knowledge, 16 Am. Med. Ass’n J. Ethics 674 (2014), https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/structural-competency-meets-structural-racism-race-politics-and-structure-medical-knowledge/2014-09