Why Racism, Not Race, Is a Risk Factor for Dying of COVID-19

Articles | June 23 2020

By Claudia Wallis

COVID-19 is cutting a jarring and unequal path across the U.S. The disease is disproportionately killing people of color, particularly Black Americans, who have been dying at more than twice the rate of white people. In some places—Washington, D.C., Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri—the death rate is four to six times higher among Black people. Infection data are less reliable and less complete than information on mortality. Yet here, too, the discrepancies appear to be stark.

The reason for these disparities is not biological but is the result of the deep-rooted and pervasive impacts of racism, says epidemiologist and family physician Camara Phyllis Jones. Racism, she argues, has led people of color to be more exposed and less protected from the virus and has burdened them with chronic diseases. For 14 years Jones worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a medical officer and director of research on health inequities. As president of the American Public Health Association in 2016, she led a campaign to explicitly name racism as a direct threat to public health. She is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is writing a book about addressing racism (Read more).