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When the pandemic ends, focus on Black health deficiencies must intensify

By Vernon A. Williams

Chicago, Milwaukee and New Orleans, African Americans make up 70 to 90 percent of the coronavirus deaths. In Alabama, Blacks are 27 percent of the population but account for 54 percent of fatalities related to this dreadful killer. Similar or worse percentages prevail across the country.

The statistics don’t hit nearly as hard as the personal impact this pandemic has had on people’s lives. Not only have I personally lost five close associates and friends, but there is no one I know personally who hasn’t experienced the hurtful loss of a relative, colleague, neighbor, classmate, friend, fraternity/sorority member or church member.

The sad fact is that African Americans are three times more likely to suffer from asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses that mitigate chances for survival of the virus. But the mortality at so pervasive and astronomical a rate is unprecedented. Black people are adrift in ominous unchartered waters.

When the U.S. surgeon general, who happens to be Black, dismisses the root of disproportionate suffering of African Americans during the coronavirus horror as principally being attributed to drinking, smoking and drugs, it ignores equally critical factors and dangerously plays into stereotypical racist narratives.

It’s more difficult to cry racism if the notion is Black people get sicker and die quicker because their health was lagging other populations from jump street. Now understand, we know that this is a fact that cannot be negated. For a virus that preys on the weaker victims, the outcome was predictable.

As the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr. articulated so well, America can seek no solace in an effort to blame the victim without taking into consideration weighty sociological factors that – when gone unchecked – leave people of color at a disadvantage forever when it comes to matters of health.

There is no sign that Blacks can depend on their health becoming a priority at the top.

Eternal optimists ventured the possibility that a global crisis might soften the heart and firm up the resolve of the incompetent incumbency in Washington D.C. Any such hope has fallen short. Regrettably, most pundits sense that the pandemic has instead brought out the worse in this already decadent leadership.

The numbers don’t lie. The data is clear. The mandate is urgent. With or without the blessings of the White House, this nation must emerge from this nightmare with the imperative of focusing on racial disparities, forming a foundational strategy for sustainable change. In the wake of this pandemic, the U.S. can’t return to business as usual.

We can no longer ignore lack of preventative care for African Americans, inadequate or nonexistent insurance, food deserts and poverty. In addition to addressing health disparities among people of color, government at every level should be held accountable for appropriations that reflect deeper concern for the most affected populations.

The federal government’s economic response to the current fiscal crisis should approach recovery efforts with a racial lens consistent with the impact of the virus. Earmark funding for distressed communities that need it most.

Undoubtedly, many will argue that much of the problem would be solved by Blacks taking more responsibility for healthier lifestyles. Let me reiterate. I don’t disagree.

But that aspect of our predicament must be tempered by economic and social factors. It falls into the category of intellectual dishonesty – perpetuating the racist arrogance of the “bootstraps” mentality. The consistent counter is how does that help the barefooted or booted person who can’t afford straps. There are always layers to inequity.

Yes, the disproportionate COVID-19 mortality rate factors among Blacks include pre-existing conditions, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. But any comprehensive assessment of why Blacks get sicker and die quicker must take into account food insecurity, segregation, racism, lack of healthcare access and poverty.

There are medical studies that detail how Black and white patients with all other demographics equal are often treated differently when treated for various illnesses. Treatment and medication options were found to frequently differ. And other reports point to medical research that fails to involve African Americans in clinical studies.

It’s not as simple as some want to suggest. But no matter where you stand on the debate on where blame should be allocated, the one thing all should agree on is that African American health disparity is intolerable as we move forward. Anything that can be done to level the playing field must be a positive outcome of this disastrous chapter in the health of our nation.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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