by Ellen Isaacs, May 11, 2020
Near 60,000 more dead by August, the latest model says. But that’s okay, the President says, the governors say. We know who will have to pay.
From the beginning of the North American project, there has been a method –divide those who labor by layers of misery, levels of payment, locales of living. And make those separations obvious, by color, by gender, by language. And teach them to hate and fear one another. As capitalism grew in sophistication, the methods of separation did also, from enslavement to eugenics to nationalism and identity politics. Some think it is being mitigated by time and education, by compassion and movements. But let this pandemic show that little has changed.
Many, in this blog and elsewhere, have documented the racist dichotomy in the incidence of this disease, as well as the racism of the US health care system which results in less medical care for black and Latin patients. Many have already reviewed the stark economic differences between white and non-white Americans which lead to a higher incidence of chronic disease, stress and environmental toxins. Many have shown how a lower life expectancy and quality of life exist for black and brown citizens. But this virus has highlighted these disparities with deathly clarity.
Essential to be Exploited and Abused
Who are the essential workers who have been forced to toil in this time and put their lives at danger? To be sure, some are the often-lauded, and deservedly so, doctors and nurses and ambulance crews. But the majority of workers in hospitals are not professionals, they are lower paid clerks and cleaners, transporters and aides. A majority of the latter are members of minority groups, a third are black. Health care workers make up 11 percent of Covid cases, but in which type of job is not documented. In all, over 70 percent of essential workers in New York City (NYC)– transit, childcare, healthcare, cleaners, postal workers – are black, Latin or Asian. Disproportionality exists everywhere.
As of April 20, at least 94 transit workers had died in New Orleans and NYC, where 2500 have tested positive. The facts that testing has been slow and the pressure to report to work intense have caused many to work even while symptomatic. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/us-bus-drivers-lack-life-saving-basic-protections-transit-worker-deaths-coronavirus) At least 17 meat processing workers have died and 5000 tested positive, but Trump has declared the industry essential, afraid to miss his fast food burgers. It is apparently less essential that workers, of whom nearly 41.5 percent are Hispanic, 4.1 percent Asian and 12.7 percent black and many undocumented, have a safe work environment or survive the pandemic
Overall, “thirty-nine percent of jobs held by Black workers, 7 million jobs in all, are vulnerable as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, compared with 34% for white workers, ” according to Charles Blow (https://www.phillytrib.com/nyt/charles-blow-covid-19s-race-and-class-warfare/article_bf03ef2a-bf8d-543d-9326-2b69b6cb7257.html). Huge wealth disparities make it impossible for many poor workers, disproportionately black and Latin, to take off from work, whether ill, tested positive or at risk. The most terrified are undocumented immigrants, who not only are ineligible for any relief payments, but are at risk of deportation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also documents job disparities that put minority workers at higher risk:
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.7
A lack of paid sick leave: Workers without paid sick leave might be more likely to continue to work even when they are sick for any reason. This can increase workers exposure to other workers who may have COVID-19, or, in turn, expose others them if they themselves have COVID-19. Hispanic workers have lower rates of access to paid leave than white non-Hispanic workers.8 ((https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra- precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html)
The long practice of differential policing has also not abated, despite pronouncements to the contrary by liberal politicians like Mayor de Blasio of NYC. As the NYC police stepped up arrests and ticketing for violating social distancing, racial discrepancies were fiercely apparent. Videos showed multiple cops beating black New Yorkers on the same day they were giving out free masks to whites sunbathing on densely packed piers. But this was not the exception. As this table shows, the differences are stark:
According to Loyda Colon, a leader of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and co-director of Justice Committee, “We are seeing and hearing accounts of abuse of authority, refusal by cops to identify themselves, unconstitutional stops and searches, excessive force, pepper spray, tasers and other violent policing of Black, Latinx and other New Yorkers of color that will be referred to as so-called social distancing enforcement but is often simply abusive broken windows policing being rebranded during this COVID-19pandemic”(https://www.changethenypd.org/releases/racial-disparities-recent-violent-police-incidents-and-arrests-show-mayor-de-blasio-must?utm_source=CPR+News+and+Updates&utm_campaign=1641b36bca-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_12_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e3c2780901-1641b36bca-156760157).
Racist Stereotypes in “Liberal” Mouths
Recently, New York State did a survey to find out who made up the declining number of hospitalizations for Covid-19. Surprisingly they did not find that essential workers were the majority, but that a majority were either retired or unemployed, 73 percent of the admissions being people over age 51. Governor Cuomo then stated that in New York City the majority are minorities, with over half being African American or Hispanic. He then added the extraordinary statement that it is all a matter of personal responsibility. “Much of this comes down to what you do to protect yourself. Everything is closed down, government has done everything it could, Society has done everything it could. Now it’s up to you.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/06/ny-gov-cuomo-says-its-shocking-most-new-coronavirus-hospitalizations-are-people-staying-home.html). There was not even a consideration that most poor and nonwhite city residents live in crowded housing, exposed to household members and neighbors who must work, as documented by the CDC.
As pointed out in an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine the nation’s most prominent medical journal, the effort to stigmatize this disease as mainly one of the poor, non-whites and non-citizens who do not take proper care of themselves can lead white society to believe they can distance themselves from the calamity (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2012910). But of course, we are all affected by this illness, as well as the loss of much of the substance of our lives. Moreover, this racial stigmatization takes the spotlight off of our capitalist system of misuse of all workers. No American can look to our health care system, our education system, our employment system, our housing or pension systems with confidence that we will be well provided for. None of us should ignore the way in which capitalist agricultural practices, greed and individualism fostered the spread of this virus. None of us should ignore the self-interested, anti-scientific and chaotic way in which the government has dealt with the resulting pandemic.
If, as is likely, the current administration is replaced by a more liberal one in the fall, we will not be made whole. The preservation of capitalism will still be primary. We can expect that millions will remain unemployed, that rent freezes will be lifted, that relief checks and free food will have disappeared – but dying and desperate people will still abound. Let us hope and act so that millions, rather than living in desperation and false hope, will rise up and demand the decent, secure life we need and deserve. That will depend on all of us cherishing each other and acting together, relying on ourselves and not politicians. It will depend on recognizing, finally, that capitalism results only in the destruction of life and the planet, and that we must get rid of it. We must replace it with a communist world run by working people – all working people—together. Let this pandemic be the fuel of our fire.