Racism and COVID-19 impacts: Professors discuss the connection in panel

The Chronicle

By Andrew Griffin

September 14, 2020

A Friday panel moderated by Thomas Williams, senior lecturing fellow the School of Law, focused on the relationship between racism and COVID-19—and the disease’s disproportionate effects on African Americans and other people of color.

After presenting a stark comparison of COVID-19 statistics in the United States and the rest of the world, Williams emphasized that impact is “not in the current moment” but will be informed by historic inequity, and that “we will see the repercussions of the impact now in the future.”

He highlighted the need for better data measurement focusing on racial data and historic trends of racial injustice.

The panelists were Keisha Bentley-Edwards, assistant professor in medicine and associate director of research at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, and Jay Pearson, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Pearson emphasized how racial hierarchies and bias are central to the American social order and national identity, and discussed the negative power of racism in worsening health outcomes.

“Given that racial categorization in the US context is a social, not a biological construct, each of the proposed proximal risk factors are themselves the result of a persistent and pernicious structurally racist society,” Pearson said. “And many of the comorbidities that have been cited and that are associated with increased risk for COVID-19 and greater health impact once COVID-19 is contracted, are similarly, the result of social and psychological stress and distress from being relegated to inferior positions in a fundamentally racist society and struggling to be seen and valued as a full human in that same society.”

Bentley-Edwards added that comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma are prevalent in African American and Latinx communities. Even when this prevalence is similar to white community members, however, African Americans are still dying at a disproportionate rate.