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Why Are More Black Americans Dying From COVID-19? | Need To Know


– St Louis just released some preliminary data and every person who has died of Coronavirus in St

Louis is black, so it is really having a particularly devastating impact on black communities – COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately higher in African American communities And right now we have Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is an investigative journalist at the New York Times She's covering racial injustice there and created the landmark 1619 Project, has earned a Peabody Award, a Polk award, and several high honors for her coverage of racial inequity across several sectors in this country And I'm just really happy to have you be a part of this conversation

– Thanks for talking about it – No problem, no problem Let's get right into it We're seeing the numbers about mortality rates, specifically among African Americans, how is COVID-19 disproportionately affecting black people in this country? – So we are now just starting to get racial data on number of infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities having to do with Coronavirus And what we're seeing is that it is having a particularly devastating effect on black communities specifically

They are being infected at much higher rates, they are being hospitalized at higher rates and they are dying at much higher rates And in some places, not just dying disproportionately, but making up the majority of deaths in communities where black people are not the majority So we're seeing that in Milwaukee, we're seeing that in Chicago, we're seeing that in New Orleans – Yeah, even in my hometown in Chicago, 70% of the deaths in Chicago are African Americans We only make up about 30% of the population there, so this thing is really ravaging African American communities

I wanna get into the reasons why You broke this down very eloquently in the Twitter thread, which is what led me to go ahead and give you a call What are some of the reasons why we're seeing this? – So what we're seeing is kind of a tsunami of disadvantages that are all coming to bear on black Americans who are contracting the virus We know that this virus, when we've seen it overseas, that it is particularly deadly to people who already have pre-existing conditions, they call them comorbidities So people who already are diabetic, who have hypertension, who have other kind of heart or respiratory problems are much more likely to succumb to the virus

And because of that, we presumed that this was a disease that really killed older Americans And then when it came to United States, we started seeing younger Americans dying And that's because black Americans not only disproportionately suffer from hypertension, diabetes, asthma, other heart issues but we suffer from them at a much younger age And that means that the virus is deadlier for black Americans at a younger age and that really speaks to the chronic disadvantage, the chronic health disparities that black Americans face There's a reason why black Americans get these diseases that normally only hit older Americans

And that's because black people live in a much higher stress environment We're the most segregated of all racial groups We live in areas that have the highest amounts of pollutants and things like pollutants, toxins, living close to highways means we're much more likely to get things like asthma, it means we're much more likely to have other respiratory illnesses It also means that when we look at the types of foods that are available in black communities and the effects of stress on black communities that we tend to be having more hypertension Stress is felt in the body and causes lots of these health conditions that we're seeing black people suffering from, from much younger ages

– What's so interesting about this is, when I studied the 1619 Project, it goes back into how the history of the transatlantic slave trade created this ripple effect throughout centuries And we still feel those reverberations in our communities right now And I think about issues like how environmental racism and redlining has led to some of the health disparities we see right now And, you know, we'll get to the disparities in healthcare access as well but can you talk a bit about how environmental racism, segregation and redlining has led to some of the conditions we see among black folks? – Right, so I think this is really important because what we're starting to see, as we learn that black people are disproportionately dying from this, is this blaming of black communities and saying that, well, that's just because black people don't take care of themselves Black people don't take care of their health

The truth is that black people are living in a constructed environment that is designed to actually produce exactly the disparities that we see It is not accidental that black people are the most likely to live near toxic sites, the most likely to live in polluted neighborhoods, the most likely to live in areas where there's a lot of highway and freeway traffic And so what that means is black people have been intentionally placed in the most vulnerable positions And all of this has the effect of having severe health declines I mean that the rates of asthma in black children is in some communities 20 to 30 times that of white children

And that's simply because of the communities that black people are forced to live in And where when powerful people decide that they want to put a polluting factory or waste dump, they put it into the places that are the most vulnerable and that have the least power to resist And those are low income black communities So none of this should be surprising that black people are suffering from these things But it's important to understand black people are not suffering from these things simply because we are making poor life decisions but we have a country that was built around not valuing black communities and not valuing black people and forcing us to live in conditions that are unhealthy for us

– There's a old saying and I'm sure you know it That is eerily appropriate right now, where is like, "if white America sneezes, "black America catches the flu" – It's almost never been more literal than it is now, yes – Absolutely, now look at in Michigan, 43% of the deaths are African Americans, suffer from COVID-19, they only make up 14% of the population I couldn't help but think about Flint when it comes to environmental racism and the conditions that we see a lot of African Americans live in

I wanna talk about labor force and employment disparities as well and how that plays a part in all this Can you break that down as well? – Absolutely, so again, very predictable that black people would be getting contact with the Coronavirus at the highest rates Black people are the most likely to work in positions of service and front-facing positions of service more specifically So the cashier, the person at the airport, who's taking your order The bus drivers, the postal workers, we are disproportionately represented in those jobs, which means we are disproportionately represented in jobs where you're gonna come in contact with a lot of strangers and not be able to shelter at home

So if you are delivering mail or you're working at Popeye's or you are driving the Transit, you can't shelter at home during this period, you actually have to work And that meant that black people were getting this infection much more than other people We're also the least likely to own our own homes, which means we're much more likely to live in apartments or in more more dense housing So we literally could not isolate in the ways that many white and Asian Americans could And so we were getting infected at higher rates and then, of course, to segue into kind of our next area, we're getting infected at higher rates but also have the least access to quality health care

– Yeah, let's let's talk about access to health care as well And even implicit bias in the healthcare system You know, there were studies that we did here on MTV News a while back that laid out how you know, African American women have higher mortality rates when it comes to giving birth than their counterparts largely because of implicit bias You laid out a study as well, about how that factors into how all this plays out So talk a bit about healthcare disparities too

– Sure, so not only are black Americans disadvantaged in terms of income, in terms of the types of jobs that we work, in terms of where we live but we also face systemic disadvantage throughout the entire spectrum of healthcare We often live in places where we have the lowest percentage of doctors serving us Where we don't have hospitals that we can go to We are the least likely to be insured in the first place And then when we enter those facilities, study after study shows that we faced bias in those facilities

That doctors don't believe that black people feel pain the same They're less likely to order follow up procedures on black people who are presenting with the exact same issues as white Americans And that means our diseases go untreated, that means that we were already going to be more vulnerable to this virus And now we don't know what type of treatment are black people experiencing once they enter into these hospitals because we know that, that bias exists – You know, we talked about this off camera, how difficult it is to think about what a qui tam action might look like, because these issues are so vast

If there was something that viewers who are looking at this, who wanna help out can do, what policies would you say they should support? How can they weigh in on this issue? – Right, so we're dealing with the results of deeply, deeply entrenched societal issues But there is something that could be changed almost overnight, that would have a massive impact on that And that's universal health care If we could allow the millions of Americans who cannot access a test, who cannot go because they're feeling ill because they don't have insurance, then that would deal a lot with the disparities that we're seeing in the region – Nikole, thank you so much for taking this time and for breaking this all down for us

Our sister network BET is airing a special called "Saving Ourselves, "a COVID-19 Relief Effort" It airs April 22nd at 8 pm Eastern Hosted by Regina Hall, Kelly Rowland and Terrence J Be sure to take it out if you are able, on April 22nd

I'm Dometi Pongo and this is MTV News, "Need to Know"

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