Episode 3: How Systemic Racism and Preexisting Conditions Contributed to COVID-19 Disparities for Black Americans, with Dr. Keisha Bentley-Edwards and Dr. Paul Robbins

How Systemic Racism and Preexisting Conditions Contributed to COVID-19 Disparities for Black Americans

Episode Summary:

The conversation with Dr. Keisha Bentley-Edwards and Dr. Paul Robbins discusses their chapter on systemic racism and how it manifests in different ways and settings, especially furthering the impact of COVID-19 on inequality. 

Bentley-Edwards and Robbins also discuss the social determinants of health, which are the social factors that influence one’s health. These can be things like policies, social services, and everyday interactions. It is important to consider social determinants when thinking about racial differences, as race is a social construct. Social determinants can have a big impact on one’s health, and oftentimes these differences are preventable.

Robbins discusses how African Americans are more likely to have pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk for severe consequences if they contract COVID-19. He attributes this to the way that society in general exposes Black Americans to these conditions. 

The episode presents the different ways in which people have responded to the pandemic. It is noted that some people believe that “we are all in this together”, while others think that demographic characteristics play a role in worse outcomes. It is also mentioned that there were miscommunications about the pandemic and that many people were not using lessons learned from previous pandemics.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • The Social Determinants of Health
  • COVID-19: The Disproportionate Impact on Black Communities
  • The Risk of Death for Black Americans
  • Essential Workers: The Unspoken Heroes of the Pandemic
  • The Impact of Systemic Racism on Vaccine Distribution
  • The Importance of Equity in Healthcare

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

Episode transcript:

Full episode transcript can be found here


  • Voting matters
  • Advocate for those who aren’t given the voice to advocate for themselves
  • Don’t take anything for granted; be conscious of what’s affecting the world around you

KEISHA L. BENTLEY-EDWARDS is an associate professor at Duke University’s School of Medicine, General Internal Medicine Division, and the associate director of research and director of the Health Equity Working Group for the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. She is a developmental psychologist who uses a cultural lens to understand the human experience and health outcomes. Her research focuses on how racism, gender, and culture influence social, physical, and emotional health as well as academic outcomes. Dr. Bentley-Edwards has an MA in developmental psychology from the Teachers College at Columbia University and a PhD in interdisciplinary studies in human development from the University of Pennsylvania.

PAUL A. ROBBINS is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. He primarily conducts research about the role of families and communities in fostering optimal development and combating academic and health disparities. Dr. Robbins has a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.

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