No single crisis or event in recent history has so sharply magnified the country’s racial disparities and inequities as the coronavirus. Not even Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, whose death and destruction primarily affected people of color, but were localized.
The coronavirus is omnipresent. It has infected people in every state, in big cities and rural communities, and from every economic class. It has infected and killed men and women of all ages and all races. Even so, in the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans and other people of color have shouldered “a disproportionate burden of illness and death” from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. A new study this week, led by Amfar and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, found that disproportionately black counties account for 22 percent of all counties but have 52 percent of coronavirus cases and 58 percent of deaths from covid-19.
Darren Hutchinson, a law professor who studies the law’s impact on race and gender, thinks white Americans can learn a thing or two about racism from the pandemic. How the fear and uncertainty they are feeling now is not unlike what African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and others feel all the time.
Hutchinson, an associate dean at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, elaborated on that notion during a recent conversation with About US. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Unlike other disasters and crises, the coronavirus seems to have laid bare the structural inequities across the board — in health care, economics, even in criminal justice — all at once. Do you agree? How is that affecting society?
Everyone’s vulnerable. In terms of geography, it’s all over the country. Every age group potentially can be affected. It’s across gender. And to the extent that structural racism impacts people along all of those axes, this is a moment where it’s really going to stand out. In terms of the fear that a lot of people, generally, have right now — and I know it’s higher among people of color — but this is the fear and anxiety that people of color experience on a daily basis. The virus is not only showing us how pervasive inequality is, it’s also giving us a moment to think about how living daily in that structural racism creates this anxiety. Read more