Opinion: Coronavirus Is Making The Case For Black Reparations Clearer Than Ever

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Written by Ann Brown
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Opinion: Coronavirus is making the case for Black reparations clearer than ever, according to Prof. William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen. David Cadet, right, waits in line outside a coronavirus screening tent at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, Thursday, March 19, 2020 in New York. Cadet does not think he has the virus but is having a screening just in case. “You have to protect them,” he says of his wife and child. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The coronavirus pandemic is proving that the time is now for reparations for Native Black Americans 

Reparations activists Professor William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen highlighted the reasons in an opinion piece for Newsweek.

“Mounting statistics confirm disturbing evidence of racial disparities in reported coronavirus deaths,” they wrote. “In Wisconsin, perhaps the state with the most extreme ratio of Black morbidity, Black people represent 6 percent of the population and 40 percent of the deaths. Those African-American deaths have occurred at a rate 700 percent higher than Black people’s share of the state’s population. In our home state of North Carolina, Black people account for 22 percent of the population but close to 40 percent of the deaths.”

Black people accounted for about 21 percent of the population but 42 percent of the deceased in areas of the country examined by an Associated Press analysis of 13,000 deaths due to covid-19.

Unfortunately, the preliminary data is not unexpected, given the underlying structural inequality in the U.S.

Black people have experienced decades of residential racial segregation, unlike any other ethno-racial group, said Tina Sacks, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, in a Berkeley News interview. This means that Black neighborhoods typically have fewer institutional anchors such as grocery stores, good schools, and safe places to walk outside and exercise, said Sachs, whose fields of interest include racial inequities in health, social determinants of health, and poverty and inequality. 

Reparations are necessary for the same reasons disproportionately large numbers of Black people are dying of the coronavirus, according to Darity and Mullen.

Among those reasons? Black people are overrepresented in jobs now designated as socially essential but but which pay low wages in transportation, food, health services, child and eldercare. These are jobs where the physical distancing needed for health safety is not possible, Darity and Mullen pointed out.

The environment in which many Black people live is also a reason they have been more susceptible to the virus.

“Black people are disproportionately exposed to indoor and outdoor environmental toxins in their homes and neighborhoods,” Sacks said. “Black people are more likely to grow up in poverty, live in substandard housing, attend under-resourced schools, and are more likely to end up in the carceral system. All of these things exact a terrible toll on Black people’s health through the life course, making them more likely to have the chronic conditions — like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension — that make them more vulnerable to covid.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.

In a separate commentary for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Darity and Mullen stressed that the growing racial wealth gap has also led to more Black people dying from coronavirus.

“Black-American descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S. constitute 13 percent of the nation’s population but possess 2.6 percent of its wealth. It would require $10-$12 trillion to raise this group’s share of the nation’s wealth to match its proportion in the population, an average of about $800,000 per household. One striking reality that exemplifies the disparity: Three white billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, hold more wealth than 80 percent of Black Americans,” they wrote.

Reparations would help to close this gap.