Savage Oppression of Black People Showing up in Disproportionate Coronavirus Deaths



“The coronavirus puts everyone in danger. Yet the way this disease comes down echoes the howling inequalities and intense forms of oppression that run through the heart of U.S. society… death, disability and hardship will still hit some sections of people far harder.”
–From Communique #2 from the Revcoms

New data from Chicago and Milwaukee indicate that the coronavirus is erupting in Black communities at a higher rate and with higher death rates than in the overall population.1

On April 5, the state of Illinois announced alarming news: 70% of people dying from the coronavirus COVID-19 disease in Chicago were Black—61 of the 86 recorded deaths. Black people are only 29% of the population of this city of about 2.7 million. In Cook County, which includes Chicago, 107 of the 183 deaths from COVID-19 were of Black people, 58% of the deaths in a county where they are only 23% of the population of about 5 million people.2

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is one of the few cities that is publishing coronavirus data by race, and the data is alarming.3 The first cases of coronavirus started in mid-March and in one week went from one case to 40; 70% of the patients were African American, most of them middle-aged men. For comparison, the county is only 27% Black, and the city is 39% Black. By the second week, there were over 350 cases, 50% Black. By April 1 there were 945 cases in the county. By April 2, 19 people had died of illness related to the coronavirus, and 15 of them were Black. At least 11 of the 19 had diabetes, 8 had hypertension, and 15 had a mixture of chronic conditions, including heart and lung diseases. The number of deaths is a more accurate indicator of the severity of the crisis, given that the actual number of people infected is unknown because many people who had symptoms were sent home without tests and it is still taking up to two weeks to get the test results.

This is just at the beginning of what is expected to be the exponential climb to the peak of cases.

Racism Is a Public Health Issue

Centuries of white supremacist oppression, from slavery through Jim Crow until today, have deeply affected the health of Black people. Study after study has brought to light the stark inequality and disparities in access to health care, treatment, outcomes of treatment, and life expectancy between Black and white people.

A June 2019 study4 illustrates the huge gap in life expectancy between Blacks and whites in Chicago. Chicago had the largest life expectancy gap in the country between Black and white neighborhoods. In Englewood, a Black neighborhood on the South Side that has been left to rot, residents only live to an average age of 60 years, while 9 miles away in Streeterville, an upscale neighborhood near downtown, residents live to an average of 90 years – a 30-year gap!

Dr David Ansell, author of The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, who has studied this question for 30 years, said, “Social conditions themselves create these terrible gaps in disease and premature mortality… What seems to be driving the large gaps in life expectancy… are actually differences in social conditions under which people live, play and work.” Decades of segregation and abandonment have left the overwhelmingly Black neighborhoods of the South Side and large parts of the West Side with few jobs, inadequate or absent social services, dilapidated housing, and homelessness. Access to quality healthcare facilities or any health care at all is minimal. Many of the neighborhoods are food deserts, with no decent grocery stores for fresh produce or healthy foods. The main nearby sources of food are fast food restaurants and corner stores that sell mainly candy, chips, pop, alcohol and cigarettes.

Being Black Is a Preexisting Condition for Coronavirus

Studies have also shown that the day-in day-out stress of dealing with structural racism and all its manifestations has a direct effect on people’s health, putting them at higher risk for chronic conditions that leave their lungs weak and their immune systems vulnerable to the coronavirus. For example, in Illinois the rate of high blood pressure for Black residents is about 48%. Chronic conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, lung disease and HIV are all rampant (40% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are Black).

Conditions of life for many Black people also leave them more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. Many work in “essential” service jobs with constant exposure to the general public and/or sick patients. Many must use public transportation, often making it difficult to keep a distance from other people. Often multiple people of all ages are living together, with little ability to practice physical distancing if one develops coronavirus symptoms. This does not even count how the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people leaves prisoners trapped in jails and prisons that are mass incubators for the coronavirus.5

So put together this terrible “status quo” of millions of Black people with the coronavirus, which infects and kills people with these kinds of preexisting health conditions and living conditions, and you get deadly results. One author said, “Being Black is a preexisting condition for coronavirus.”

There is not an even playing field in the fight against this deadly virus. And inequality, neglect, and bias cannot be fought if they are hidden.6 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not carried out their normal procedure of publishing data on race and COVID-19, nor has it required such data to be collected from the states. By ignoring or covering up the racial disparities, by not reporting data, the fascist government in power is risking more lives of a whole section of people who are already at a great health disadvantage because of the white supremacist system. Data on race and zip code of people with COVID-19 must immediately be collected and released by all health departments, rapid testing must be available to everyone, and emergency responses must be aimed at the hardest-hit communities.

1. The number of positive cases and deaths in majority Black cities like Detroit, Newark and New Orleans also have leapt up in the last few days. In Michigan, where the state population is 14% Black, African Americans made up 40% of deaths as of April 3. Detroit, a majority Black city, is now a hotspot of coronavirus. (See also Charles Blow’s “The Racial Time Bomb in the Covid-19 Crisis,” New York Times, April 1, 2020, which delves into potential implications for the South.) [back]

2. “In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths Are Black,” April 5, 2020, WBEZ Chicago. [back]

3. “Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate,” Akilah Johnson and Tailia Buford, ProPublica, April 3, 2020. [back]

4. The NYU School of Medicine analyzed data from the CDC from the 500 biggest U.S. cities from 2010-2015. Cited in “Chicago Has the Largest Life Expectancy Gap in the Country. Why?” Kristen Thometz, June 6, 2019, [back]

5., updated April 6. “2.3 Million US Prisoners and Detainees Trapped in ‘Petri Dish’ for Coronavirus” [back]

6. The immediate problem with data on coronavirus spread and outcomes among Black people is that there is very little data. In order to identify the impact of the coronavirus—who it is spreading among, who is being hospitalized and is dying from it, how to tamp down the contagion—data must be collected and analyzed. Age, sex, and preexisting conditions have been identified as key factors and are included in local, state and federal reports. But race is a critical factor that the CDC and most state and local governments are NOT publishing, and it is not clear whether it is even being collected.

To be clear, race is not a biological concept, and there is no such thing as distinct biological races of human beings—to the coronavirus, all human beings are the same. But the concept of race has important social meaning in terms of how groupings of people are treated in society, with a long history of racism and oppression, and that very much comes into play in a medical situation like this pandemic. See “What Does the Science of Evolution Tell Us About Human ‘Races’?” pp 166-169, from The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism by Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, 2006. [back]

There is not an even playing field in the fight against this deadly virus. Conditions of life for many Black people leave them more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. And just when health services are most critical, Provident Hospital on Chicago's Southside closed. Here, nurses protest this action on April 6. Photo: AP

Communique #2 from the Revcoms:

Click here to Read and Download

The Coronavirus Pandemic — A Resource Page

  • What IS the Corona virus COVID-19 and what do scientists know about this?
  • How is the capitalist-imperialist system making the effect of the Coronavirus worse than it has to be?
  • How do the “savage inequalities” of the system play out in the way this virus affects different sections of people? Who does it come down the worse on, and why?
  • How would the revolution handle the coronavirus or similar epidemics if it held state power?

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