June 12, 2020

Let’s talk about the pandemics. Plural. For the past few months, the COVID-19 health crisis has incited people all over the world to cling to news and media more than ever and willingly (or unwillingly) abandon social interaction at all costs. For the past few centuries, racism and xenophobia have plagued the United States and formed the root of oppression against people who appear non-white or identify as black, indigenous, or people of color. 

Contrary to the initial lack of accurate information available to the public about COVID-19, “racism is not stupidity — racism is hate…” quote from 23 year old Jonathan Mok, U.K. citizen from Singapore after he was beaten in central London sustaining face injuries. This is not an isolated incident and sadly will likely not be the last. In countries like the United Kingdom, United States and Italy where there is a large portion of Asian immigrants and citizens, there have been exponential spikes in racially sparked assaults, whether verbal or physical, the xenophobia against Asian peoples has been experienced everywhere. Friends of AIAS members living in northern Italy who are Korean born have shared that they experience much verbal hate in their community; even though these friends are not Chinese, they are still grouped into nonspecific anti-asian racism. These types of social issues are not new. During the ‘80’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the LGBT+ community experienced similar hate and discrimination with places refused to work with them or work help them with healthcare. With Spanish Flu in the early 20th century, though there is no consensus about the virus’s origin, the Spanish flu gained regard after Spain was the first country to recognize it. Nearly every minority has experienced some type of bias/xenophobia from times of stress and confusion. 

When compounded, these viruses can and will continue to wreak the most havoc on those in society who are chronically underserved. It is impossible to discuss the impact of COVID-19 without also mentioning how disproportionately it has sickened and killed minorities. Minorities most often make up the majority of essential workers that have needed to continue their daily jobs in order for the rest of us to live our lives comfortably; and due to systemic and intentional racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, minorities also make up a majority of those who are incarcerated in jails, which are rampant with untested disease (among other problems).

The Status of the Virus in Various Countries

CNN reports that at this point in time, the novel Coronavirus has reached every continent except Antarctica. Currently, in the U.S. the number of known cases is doubling every month where the next highest number of deaths is doubling every two months in the United Kingdom, the next hardest-hit country. In Mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated, the number of cases is doubling about every 27 years, so they are no longer seeing a surge of cases. One of the hotspots of the pandemic, Italy, is now at a rate of cases doubling every six months. They currently have 225,886 cases and 32,007 deaths. 

Many countries seem to be ending lockdown restrictions such as Italy who, BBC reports, on May 4th will allow their citizens to visit family but schools will not be reopening until the fall. However, people will be able to convene in parks, factories, and building sites.

Disproportionate Effects on Minorities

As more information becomes available on the racial and ethnic backgrounds of those contracting the virus, as well as those passing away, it has become evident that there has been a disproportionate effect on certain racial groups. The predominance of the disease in minority groups has become so apparent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even includes a page on Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups under their Others at Risk section. “Among COVID-19 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available, New York City identified death rates among Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons” (CDC). 

A recent limited study by the CDC found African Americans make up 33% of hospitalizations from the virus—despite making up about 13.4 percent of the population.

There are many factors that contribute to these communities being more impacted by the current public health crisis. A primary factor is their living conditions. “Members of racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to live in densely populated areas because of institutional racism in the form of residential housing segregation” according to the CDC. This creates difficulties in practicing social distancing, which is currently believed to be the best defense against this disease. In addition, the locations of these racially segregated residential breakdowns typically have health care and other resources unevenly distributed, making access to health care even more difficult for these communities. Racial and ethnic minority communities are often located further away from essential services, making staying at home even more difficult. There is also an increase in multi-generational households in certain ethnic groups, making it more impractical for them to protect the more vulnerable, older generation when their living conditions have limited space constraints. 

In Chicago, black Americans account for 68 percent of the city’s 118 deaths and 52 percent of the roughly 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, despite making up just 30 percent of the city’s population, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Another contributing factor is the disproportionate amount of racial and ethnic minorities that are in correctional centers and prisons. Many cities have been trying to decrease their inmate populations because the conditions of a prison makes prevention of disease spread incredibly difficult. Racial and ethnic minorities are also more likely to be critical workers, who are more likely to be exposed to the virus at work. “Nearly a quarter of employed Hispanic and Black or African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to 16% of non-Hispanic whites. Hispanic workers account for 17% of total employment but constitute 53% of agricultural workers; Black or African Americans make up 12% of all employed workers, but account for 30% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses” (CDC). In addition, having access to paid sick leave helps reduce the risk of infection, but many workers may not have paid sick leave, resulting in higher spread of the infection in certain industries. 

A large contributing issue is the lack of health insurance, which can further exacerbate the problem. “Compared to whites, Hispanics are almost 3 times as likely to be uninsured, and African Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured” (CDC). Health care can be difficult to access for poorer Americans due to the exorbitant cost of care, resulting in them being less likely to seek out care when they need it. The language barrier also adds to a certain level of distrust in hospitals for some groups.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said 25% of Covid-19 cases in her state as of a few days ago were found to be among Native Americans, who only represent 6% of the state’s population.

Finally, the Native American population has been disproportionately affected by the virus in many ways. Despite making up such a low percentage of the population of states The Navajo Nation occupies, they’ve had more deaths on the reservation than in the state of New Mexico. “Thus far, 20 reservation residents have died from the disease. In New Mexico, a state where much of the Navajo land is located, the non-reservation death toll stands at 16” (Business Insider). A lack of access to clean water makes improved hygiene efforts difficult on the reservation. In addition, “the Navajo Nation is awaiting emergency funds from the March 6 coronavirus aid package, which allotted $40 million to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, but does not know when it will get them” (Business Insider). While our own government has provided inadequate assistance to the Native American population, the Irish have stepped in, with a majority of over $3 million in donations sent by the Irish. This gesture is in solidarity and repayment for the $170 donation sent by the Choctaw nation to the victims of the Irish famine in 1847!


One inspiring thing that we’ve seen more than once during this pandemic is people taking to the streets to protest. The first set of protests stemmed from a need to get hair cuts and nails done, while the second set of protests have been to demand equal rights, reform to the policing system and work towards dismantling the systemic racism that exists in this country. The racism was evident just from how the police reacted to these protests: the first protests were met by calm police that did not react or retaliate to unmasked people carrying assault rifles into a government building screaming in their faces. The second protests against police brutality was met with, well, more police brutality. We have seen protests erupt across the country that have been met with excessive police force, tear gas, rubber bullets and fire crackers. The response of the police to the different protests go to show how much reform we really need to make to dismantle the systemic racism that has existed in our country since its conception.

The threat of coronavirus was still very real throughout all of these protests, yet those who came out were willing to gather and exercise their first amendment rights as safely as possible in order to demand equality and resist the widely unfair and violent treatment of black people by the police. These protests were also held all over the world!

Though globally we are all experiencing this new age of distance, the imperative thing to keep in mind is how truly connected we are on this Earth. Separated by cultures, oceans and mountains, we still are all vulnerable to the same diseases and viruses which link us together as humans. The Pandemic of Fear, this time when society’s reactions are seemingly worse than the fear of sickness itself, is no longer incurable, and we know we can combat it with the pursuit of the truth. Questioning everything shouldn’t propel us into anxiety, but it should inspire us to know more about what was, up until now, the status quo. The “new normal” we are walking into is far from the reality we were living in four months ago, and that’s something to be embraced. A new normal that is free of systemic racism, careless healthcare, and over-policed minorities is what we, the people, deserve.

In order to be a positive part of the new normal, take this time to learn about the experiences many go through everyday – negative experiences that layers of privilege may keep you from seeing yourself. Be an effective ally through having conversations and open discourse on what the problems are and how we, as a society, can stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement and show true solidarity with Black Americans. Stay updated on local news in cities outside of your own; not living in or not being from a certain place doesn’t preclude you from signing petitions, making calls, or spreading the word about an issue that concerns all of us. Take your individual passions (architecture, design, arts, theater, history, science, research, etc.) and re-learn about how the world can be a better place for all people through that niche – it’s easier to learn more about things, especially difficult truths, when we’re already interested in the overall topic. Deconstructing what feels comfortable is vital to our actions, thoughts, and intentions going forward because that comfort, which is enjoyed by some, is paid for in the lives and wellbeing of black people, indigenous people, and other people of color. In the new normal, the lives of the few will no longer be an acceptable currency for the privileges of the many.








Written by Renu Varadheeswaran, Noor Ul Ain, and the 2019-2020 AIAS Equity and Diversity Task Force