A stark racial disparity is emerging in the US, with more and more black people falling victim to coronavirus.

The black community in the US is turning out to be most vulnerable to the ongoing pandemic. Although data on race and the coronavirus is too limited, the racial breakdown of virus-linked deaths in cities like Chicago and North Carolina suggests that the black community is worst hit. 

As of April 8, the total number of coronavirus cases in the US is 435,000 and the virus has claimed almost 15,000 deaths so far. In Chicago alone, out of 177 casualties 122 are black Americans. 

Chicago, the third largest city in the US, has a black population that makes up 30 percent of its total three million people. 

The rising death toll of black people in the city caused by Covid-19 cases once again reveals the dark side of American society — the longstanding racial inequality that robs the disadvantaged people from black communities of health services as they are poor and can't afford insurance. 

As in other cities with high percentages of African American populations, including Detroit, Mississippi, Alabama, New Orleans, Georgia and New York, similar stories are playing out, TRT World spoke to Donna Neil-Demir, health advisor at Zakat Foundation of America and staff nurse at Little Co Marry for some insights.

Demir, an African American based in Chicago is involved in humanitarian work to  give back to her community. She has been distributing gloves and masks to hospitals all over Chicago since the outbreak. 

When asked about why the coronavirus is disproportionately infecting and killing African Americans, Demir says the black community can’t afford housing so they live very tightly together - sometimes multiple generations living in one house where social distancing is unlikely and the virus is spreading quickly. Secondly, she says the jobs they work, mostly in service and maintenance requires them to keep going to work amidst the lockdown which makes black communities more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus.  

“These people are struggling to survive everyday. I have a friend who told me ‘I can’t afford to not go to work. If I get it, I get it!’. They cannot stay at home. It’s not a choice. Even before Covid-19, they are not allowed to be sick. They go to work in pain, while having fever, they do not have the luxury to call in sick, because of the poverty and the fear of losing their jobs and not being able to find another one. It’s a mass system of poverty.”

Donna Demir, working with Zakat Foundation of America team to distribute medical-grade gloves and masks to local hospitals in underserved communities in Chicago.
Donna Demir, working with Zakat Foundation of America team to distribute medical-grade gloves and masks to local hospitals in underserved communities in Chicago. ()

According to 2018 US Census Data, the highest poverty rate by race is found among Native Americans (25.4 percent), with the second highest poverty rate (20.8 percent) among the black community. Considering the fact that 65 percent of all black families with children are being headed by single women, Demir warned about the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis and upcoming problems. 

“A lot of single family homes where the mother or grandmother is raising the children are at risk. If the mother or the grandmother dies, these children will become orphans. In better scenarios, if the father, brother or grandfather of the house -sole breadwinner of the family dies- how is the wife, the mother with no skills going to feed herself and the children?” she asked.

Demir says health disparities also play a key factor.  “Genetically African Americans tend to be diabetic, asthmatic and suffer from high blood pressure- comorbidity leading to low life expectancy as black Americans don’t have access to healthcare and there is mistrust to the system given the racist history of American medicine.”

The US has a shortage of testing kits and Demir says the test kits are not being dispensed equally. “ We’re obviously at a higher risk from coronavirus infections.  How does that work? You contract the virus, you’re sick- you don’t know you have it. We don’t have test kits. We can’t afford to stay at home.  You keep going to work. So you are travelling back and forth and it will keep spreading among the black community much faster. 

Demir says  the inequality has not just started with Covid-19. “Our circumstances and the way we live has never been equal to the way the rest of America lives, not just us - also other minorities but you see it more with black communities. Because we were never able to get through lots of issues from being slaves. Some of us got education and living nicely but statistically it’s still not working out. Unemployment is high, violence is high, drug sales and usage is high… all these are directly related to the poverty.”

Demir says it is very hard for people to see America in this light, whis is so different from the lifestyle shown in American movies, but a lot of Americans live very much below the poverty line. “In the average American public schools in the black neighbourhoods, we still have meal programs going on because kids go to school hungry.” 

The USDA estimated that 11.1 percent of US households were food insecure in 2018 - meaning to say that approximately 14.3 million households had difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. 

Demir further explains the health disparities in the American society. “When you look at the infant mortality rate in Michigan it is very similar to that of people in Africa. Babies die at a rate almost similar to a third world country. Now why are we so badly infected by this virus? Because we don’t have access to healthcare. We can’t afford healthcare.”

According to 2018 national maternal mortality rates, of the 658 women who died of maternal causes, black women fared the worst, dying 2.5 times more often than white women (37.1 vs 14.7 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Demir says they lack grocery stores in their communities, let alone clinics. “It is called food deserts here, areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food- found predominantly in low-income areas. We don’t have grocery stores. You only find stores that sell alcohol and maybe they will sell a lit bit of food on the side. I don’t know where to start?!”

Demir says education and understanding is an issue among their community in their fight against the coronavirus. In order to address this gap, Demir also volunteers for the National Black Muslim Covid Coalition, which was launched to help the community contain the disease on March 23 with the joint efforts of 40 individuals from different disciplines around the country. “These people don’t know any better. It’s not something they do on purpose. How does the right information get to them? 

Demir said: “We live such separate lives in Chicago that no one comes into our community to help. It will take a lot of prioritizing to fix the black communities' problems. We need to keep people in their homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But then, you also need to reach them to get them food. In short, we have to be able to deliver food to people that are shut down in their homes - this will help the community stop the disease.”

The history of African Americans in Chicago dates back to the 18th Century. The early fugitive slaves and freedmen established communities becoming an urban population. 

Speaking of her story in Chicago, Demir says they live so separate lives in the same city. 

“Between this side and that; the streets go bad, there are holes in the streets, the lights don’t work, there are no grocery stores. It’s almost like you see an invisible line. When you go to certain neighbourhoods in Chicago, you can tell which one is black- which one is white. Things have never been equitable for us. It’s institutionalised poverty, most of Chicago’s black communities have no stores at all, no bookstores, maybe a library. Schools have no art classes nor music classes. Most have no computer, nothing to help them or make them competitive in the world. It is a life sinking in poverty. It is Black Life in America.”

[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]

Source: TRT World