COVID19 and Black Bodies

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Racism does not shelter in place. It does not work from home, but continues to dissect and disintegrate values and life in America. COVID-19 has revealed the contours of America’s structural racism. Like a pencil rubbing a nickel under a sheet of paper, this pandemic is bringing out details of structural racism that exist in healthcare, the labor force, and in the minds and hearts of African Americans.

The news about black people contracting and dying from COVID-19 in higher numbers than whites has been statistically proven. Numbers from New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and other major cities clearly show a large discrepancy between the number of blacks in the general population and the number who are dying from the virus.

Why is this so? An immediate conclusion is that there is a difference between black bodies and other bodies. Some believe black people are somehow different flesh and bone than whites. In the article, How Racism is Shaping the Corona Virus Pandemic, Isaac Chotiner writes how the yellow fever in 1793 wiped out 10% of the population in Philadelphia. But experts believed blacks were immune. For this reason, they assigned blacks to care for the whites who were ill. Many blacks died because of this action. The belief that blacks have different bodies goes back to the false science of eugenics and the determined effort to prove blacks are physically and mentally inferior.

The truth has more to do with socialization than biology and more about where black people work and live than how they think. These elements of structural racism were present and active before COVID-19 appeared in this country. Working African Americans hold more blue-collar and service jobs. They are the janitors, grocery clerks, bus drivers, and nursery home aids. They can’t work from home. Black and brown people are the ones ordered back into the meat processing factories where hundreds have been infected and many have died. They are the ones exposed to the unprotected coughs and sneezes of the public.

While black bodies are not different bodies, healthcare for black bodies is often inferior. The history of misuse, abuse, and non-treatment of black bodies has created an internalized reticence toward doctors among African Americans. Some of this is connected to areas of poverty where many blacks live. It creates an atmosphere where people are less likely to trust doctors or the medicine they provide. Limited nutrition leads to obesity. When added to untreated hypertension and diabetes, the combination becomes deadly. COVID-19 is the final weight on the scale that leads to serious illness and death.

These areas of structural racism- employment, healthcare, and poverty–are lifted up in the Apology document DRAP created. We are reminded that just as racism doesn’t sleep nor shelter in place, neither should our vigilance to bring observable change to our communities and society.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

9 Responses to “COVID19 and Black Bodies”

  1. Sim Gardner on

    Our conversations re: racism and STL can be enriched by Harvard professor Walter Johnson’s recently published The Broken Heart of America—I highly recommend it for its scholarly and well sourced approach as well as story-rich narrative highlighting well-known characters in our shared history…including early Presbyterians…Johnson ends on a hopeful and suggestive note we can pick up and follow…read it!

    Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Sim,
      I just began reading The Broken Heart of America. Excellent book. I will recommend it to our congregations for a book study. It’s thick but worth it! Thanks! Craig.

      Reply
  2. Aline Russell on

    Thank you for your timely challenge to this odious rationalization for providing grossly inadequate help and protection for African American victims of COVID19!

    Reply
    • Sim Gardner on

      Yes, Susan and I read this review/profile when her copy of alumni magazine arrived and it is a great companion piece to Johnson’s book as well as a very personal insight into his undergraduate course and not-for-profit work with students committed to healing STL’s broken heart…

      Reply
  3. Diane McCullough on

    Craig, thank you again for your insight, honesty and beautiful writing! And thanks to Sim for bringing up the Walter Johnson book. Members of the DRAP Education team are reading the book as we speak and it will be an incredible resource. Another important book by Dr. Catherine Meeks and Rev. Nibs Stroupe is “Passionate for Justice: Ida B. Wells as Prophet for Our Times.” This book could serve as an excellent companion to the Apology written by DRAP and a guide to understanding the need for the Apology.

    Reply

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