Is the Coronavirus Racist?


There are few beliefs I find more ludicrous than that a mindless, unconscious disease, virus or no, can be racist against one or more of the peoples of the earth. Like the notion that the earth’s climate can be racist, this theory reflects more on the psychology of the propagator, than it does on reality. In order to be racist, to hate or to discriminate in any way shape or form, requires, I think, some form of sentience. But when has logic ever gotten in the way of a good narrative?

This batty claim is gathering steam in this novel coronavirus era. Somehow, a virus, which largely remains a mystery and that has confounded even the world’s ‘best brains’, is systematically eliminating anyone of a hue, darker than the typical human palm or sole. Others claim that somehow because of ‘institutional racism’, minority races are more likely to succumb to the disease.

The more palpable of these theories is the latter without question: that the ‘racist’ societal structure set up by the so-called ‘white’ man, means that the impact of the virus has taken on a racial bent.

Take NY Times Columnist Charles Blow’s piece for example. He opened by stating, “People like to say that the coronavirus is no respecter of race, class or country, that the disease Covid-19 is mindless and will infect anybody it can.”

It is true. Many people do like to say that. That phrase continues to be stated seemingly ad-infinitum in my country Saint Lucia, which is, just so you know, demographically a mostly so-called black country. We so far have recorded 15 cases with a total population of just over 170,000 and a land mass of 616 square kilometres. Thankfully, by official count, no one has died so far of the disease.

But what’s interesting about Blow’s cited line is that he sets it up, simply to tear it down in the rest of his column. “In theory, that is true.” writes the columnist of his opening line. “But, in practice, in the real world, this virus behaves like others, screeching like a heat-seeking missile toward the most vulnerable in society. And this happens not because it prefers them, but because they are more exposed, more fragile and more ill.”

The most vulnerable in society Blow contends, are ‘black and brown’ people. “Early evidence from cities and states already shows that black people are disproportionately affected by the virus in devastating ways.” Blow writes. “As ProPublica reported, in Milwaukee County, Wis., as of Friday morning, 81 percent of the deaths were black people. Black people make up only 26 percent of that county.”

Staggering numbers indeed. “As for Chicago” Blow continues, “WBEZ reported Sunday that “70 percent of Covid-19 deaths are black,” and in the surrounding Cook County, while “black residents make up only 23 percent of the population, they account for 58 percent of the Covid-19 deaths.”

In Detroit, “At least 40 percent of those killed by the novel coronavirus in Michigan so far are black, a percentage that far exceeds the proportion of African-Americans in the Detroit region and state.”

The columnist later cites a report from the Economic Policy Institute which points out that “less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home” and that “Only 9.2 percent of workers in the lowest quartile of the wage distribution can telework, compared with 61.5 percent of workers in the highest quartile.”

Blow’s point? “Staying at home is a privilege. Social distancing is a privilege”; and therefore the one size fits all narrative touted by the WHO and political leaders local and national, simply isn’t the reality.

“The idea that this virus is an equal-opportunity killer must itself be killed.” the columnist declares. “And, we must dispense with the callous message that the best defense we have against the disease is something that each of us can control: We can all just stay home and keep social distance.”

A fascinating point to ponder and one I don’t think has been given enough airtime. The crux of Blow’s argument is that despite the world’s newfangled litany; that ‘we need to social distance in order to save lives’, there may in fact be those incapable of doing just that. That “The people who can’t [practice social distancing] must make terrible choices: Stay home and risk starvation or go to work and risk contagion.”

It’s a situation by no means unique to the US, or to the rest of the developed world. Although the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities have been relatively low in the Caribbean region, strict curfews and quarantine measures, as well as the near shut down of the world economy, have led to thousands losing their jobs, and even more having to take a pay cut just to keep working.

Despite many having benefited from government relief packages, no one knows how long such a measure can be sustained as a counter to the near economic shutdowns, nor the long lasting impact this decision will have post COVID-19. Ironically, the meting out of these relief packages has in fact contributed greatly to the contravention of the government imposed social distancing policies. But what’s to be done?

Blow’s point, though American in origin, is true on a much larger scale: that many are incapable of social distancing, not merely because of a lack of discipline, but because it literally is a choice between life and death.

Where I think Blow veers off to the unproven, is his conclusion that this reality breaks along racial lines.

And of course, being a New York Times columnist, Blow couldn’t help but dedicate a portion of his column to the mainstream media’s number one pet peeve. “The perception that this is a jet-setters’ disease, or a spring breakers’ disease, or a “Chinese virus” as President Trump likes to say, must be laid to rest,” writes Blow.

What may come as a bit of a surprise to him however, (and to Yours Truly), is that the ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, ‘xenophobe’, aka, ‘Orange Man Bad’, a couple of days after that NY Times column, pretty much agreed with its premise. Per Breitbart: “President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the White House said that African-Americans were suffering more deaths proportionally during the coronavirus epidemic.”

Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering recounts Trump’s statement: “It has been disproportional,” Trump said. “They [blacks] are getting hit very, very hard. It is a tremendous challenge. It’s terrible,”

Oh how very racist from the racist Trump to be so concerned with the fate of a minority group in his country. But I digress.

Spiering also wrote that Anthony Fauci came to the same conclusion; that “black Americans were suffering disproportionally from the virus because of existing health problems that were prevalent in black communities — such as heightened levels of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma.”

“We’re very concerned about it, it’s very sad,” said Fauci, echoing Trump’s sentiments. “It’s nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications,”

Key to Fauci’s assessment though is his opinion that this disproportionate fatality rate among ‘blacks’, has mainly to do with preexisting conditions: “heightened levels of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma.”

And although according to some studies, certain diseases do seem to occur based on race, like sickle cell for instance, there’s nothing to suggest that a change in diet won’t significantly reduce most of the above-mentioned pre-existing conditions in ‘blacks.’

There’s nothing to prove that ‘blacks’ are more likely to die from COVID-19 because of a racial predisposition to it, whether biological, social or otherwise.

What’s also ironic about these race based COVID-19 claims is, when news of 1000’s of Chinese and Italians dying every week from the coronavirus first started breaking, some armchair virologists here in Saint Lucia (yes ‘black’ virologists at that), hypothesised that “for once, a virus isn’t attacking us. It’s attacking them.”

And while I don’t know if the sentiment was similar to that of ‘blacks’ in the US, it doesn’t take away from the irony. Coronavirus wasn’t racist when the vast majority of its fatalities were of Chinese and Italian stock. Now that ‘blacks’ are dying in the US, (though the number of fatalities remain low in the Caribbean), it has suddenly become a racial issue. I just don’t buy it.

Although, as an interesting side note, even a cursory look at this story coming out of China, may point to a government that’s actually discriminating against blacks. (Financial Times)

Africans claim they are being unfairly treated in China, accused of being political carriers of the virus.

But what pokes the biggest hole in this racist coronavirus theory is the lack of data. True, Blow cites very credible sources but he was only able to cite a few. Even he admits that most hospitals aren’t even allowing the dissemination of coronavirus statistics along racial lines and therefore a wider cross section of like studies will be needed before jumping to that particular powder keg of a conclusion.

But I’ll conclude with this from the already cited Breitbart article: “Dr. Deborah Birx said that the black population was not more likely to contract the virus, but that their health conditions made them more likely to suffer serious health problems or death from the virus.”


Dean Nestor

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