Why the coronavirus is so deadly for black America
In Michigan, African Americans represent 14 percent of the population, 33 percent of infections, and 40 percent of deaths. In Mississippi they represent 38 percent of the population, 56 percent of infections, and 66 percent of deaths. In Georgia they represent 16 percent of the population, 31 percent of infections, and just over 50 percent of deaths. The list goes on and on: Across the board, African Americans are more likely to be infected by Covid-19 and far more likely to die from it.
This doesn’t reflect a property of the virus. It reflects a property of our society. Understanding why the coronavirus is brutalizing black America means understanding the health inequalities that predate it.
For the last 25 years, David R. Williams, a professor of public health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been studying those inequalities. He was named one of the top 10 most-cited social scientists in the world from 1995 to 2005, and Reuters ranked him as one of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” in 2014.
At the center of Williams’s work is an attempt to grapple with some of the most difficult and sensitive questions in public: Why do black Americans have higher rates of chronic illness, disease, and mortality than white Americans? Why do those disparities remain even when you control for variables like income and education?
Consider this: The life expectancy gap between a white high school dropout and a black high school dropout? 3½ years. Between a white college graduate and a black college graduate? 4.2 years.
In this conversation, Williams doesn’t just give the clearest account I’ve heard of the coronavirus’s unequal toll. He also gives the clearest account of how America’s institutional and social structures have led to the most profound and consequential inequality of all.
"Are Ghettos Good or Bad" by David Cutler and Edward Glaeser
American Apartheid by Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton
The Highest Stage of White Supremacy by John Whitson Cell
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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