Racism and Epidemics from the Plague to Covid-19

by Karyn Pomerantz and KT Conner

Social Murder: “Infection Meets Inequality” 

A NYC physician described the Covid-19 pandemic as “infection meets inequality.” As the pandemic spreads here in the US, evidence shows that it reflects the same racist health and social inequities that capitalism created in the 15th Century. 

This post offers examples of racism during times of plagues and other epidemics, and reports early April 2020 data on Covid-19 morbidity and mortality rates among different racial and ethnic categories. These revelations of disproportionate deaths and illness have elicited vows to change the underlying causes of such inequity. This blog argues that the root cause is capitalism and that no reform, including elections, will eradicate racism, change the ways capitalism operates, or weaken the powerful owners of corporations and financial institutions. Capitalism cannot exist without racism, and we cannot live with capitalism. 

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Racism: Highlighted by Covid-19, Needed by Capitalism

by Ellen Isaacs

April 12, 2020

The current pandemic has made the racial inequality in the US glaringly apparent if there was anyone who was not already aware of it. Countless articles have been written which document the much higher rate of infection and mortality for black and Latin workers in the US. Most reports, however, have responded to these glaring statistics with the hope or a vow to find a remedy, to cure the inequality which we have known has existed for hundreds of years. What few have acknowledged is that the capitalist US economy depends on racism for its functioning. Thus what we can actually expect, bar a mass movement to the contrary, is a return to hiding racial inequality and blaming the victims.

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A Better World is Possible: Pandemic Management Under Capitalism and Communism

by Karyn Pomerantz, 4-3-2020

This contrasts the ways capitalist countries (primarily the US) mismanage epidemics and the changes communism would make. Part 1 discussed the prevention of epidemics.

Part 2 – Pandemic Management Under Capitalism = Social Murder

As described in Part 1, capitalists operate to make profit off the backs of workers. Whether they pay low or high wages, they ultimately exploit their employees by paying them less than the value they produce. Corporate boards cut benefits, increase productivity, establish factories in low wage, non-union countries, and avoid taxes to increase their wealth. This leaves low wage and unemployed workers destitute and vulnerable to disease.

Furthermore, in the interests of short term gains, they don’t plan for future needs or stockpile emergency equipment. While no country would ever have sufficient beds lying around in case of a pandemic, capitalists don’t invest sufficiently in prevention, health care, or medical research that would decrease the death rate of contagious diseases. Over the last decade, the US Congress has stripped funds from the CDC that cut over 700 employees and from public health budgets, leaving state and local health departments unable to conduct contact tracing, deploy enough outreach workers to educate the public, or pay for protective body wear.

In the richest country, we have regular people sewing gowns and printing 3D masks for healthcare workers. We have nurses, Instacart shoppers, and Amazon warehouse workers striking for protective gear and hazard pay. In Taiwan, factories produced millions of masks per day; the US has already depleted its stockpile and recommends that people make their own. The US had actually contracted with a company that could make inexpensive ventilators, but when the medical device industry objected, the government cancelled the contract.  Currently, major hospitals will run out of ventilators this month (April 2020). This neglect amounts to social  murder.

Here are some of the ways US capitalism sets up people for the kill.

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A Better World Needs to be Born -Preventing and Controlling Pandemics, Part 1

by Karyn Pomerantz, 3-29-2020

Part 1 contrasts epidemic prevention under capitalism and communism

Part 2 will contrast management and control of epidemics (coming soon)

By Karyn Pomerantz, March 28, 2020

Like Hurricane Katrina, the coronavirus pandemic has stripped bare all the extreme inequities of capitalism. With millions at risk, it is the working class around the world, especially its poorest, black, and brown members, who suffer the most. As higher income people stay at home, low wage workers hold down jobs that endanger their health.  Added to this are lifetimes without quality health care, education, food, and housing, and often the stress of racism and marginalization. 

On March 27th, Black Agenda Report nailed it when it wrote: 

“The United States is a global vector of suffering and death, through the policies of its corporate party tag-team. When deadly diseases are set in motion, the crime becomes mass murder-suicide.”

Continue reading “A Better World Needs to be Born -Preventing and Controlling Pandemics, Part 1”

The Virus Will be Most Virulent to the Incarcerated

by The Editors

March 26, 2020

The two million prisoners in jail for crimes and the 38,000 undocumented immigrants detained in the US today are in grave danger of dying in large numbers from the Covid19 pandemic. Needless to say, the fact that the majority of those detained are black or Latin is a major factor in their lives being devalued by the rulers of capitalist America.

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Just Mercy: Reforming or Overthrowing the Criminal Injustice System?

by Karyn Pomerantz, 3-15-2020

There is broad interest in the United States over policing and imprisonment as a racist attack directed primarily against black and Latin workers. The US leads the world in imprisonment with over two million people in prison and more under the control of the criminal “justice” system. Detention centers for immigrants add to the toll with approximately 50,000 people held in custody every day (AP, 2019) and thousands of children isolated in camps apart from their parents, a strategy to deter and terrorize immigrants fleeing even more terrifying situations in their home countries. 

Reformers call for adjusting sentencing and parole for crimes, reducing overcrowding, supporting rehabilitation and reentry, releasing older and sicker prisoners, decreasing the number of black and brown men being arrested and incarcerated, ending solitary confinement, and improving prison health and access to educational programs. Juvenile justice proponents argue for the presence of lawyers during questioning and alternatives to prison. 

This article argues that reforms do not achieve sustainable improvements because incarceration and legal processes (bail, plea deals, inadequate legal aid) serve to control rebellion and dissent. Replacing capitalism with an egalitarian social system can alter the environment that causes crime and transform offenders through restorative justice and other alternatives to policing and prison. 

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THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM MUST BE A FIGHT AGAINST ALL FORMS OF RACISM

by Ellen Isaacs. January 2, 2020

There have been several egregious and widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks in the US in recent months, Although horrifying, it is not surprising given the general increase in hate crimes in this profoundly racist nation, which includes reported crimes against 2423 blacks, 670 Latinos, and 954 Jews in 2018 (https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2018/topic-pages/victims), with the largest percentage increases against Jews and Latinos. It must also be kept in mind that reporting of such incidents is entirely voluntary, even by law enforcement, and is thus a gross underestimate.

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OVER FORTY YEARS OF LEAD POISONING IN CHILDREN — THE CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM

By Nayvin Gordon and Karyn Pomerantz, October 28, 2019


The US Department of Health and Human Services promoted October 20-27, 2019 as national lead prevention week. As of 2017, pediatricians reported that more than half a million US children had lead poisoning (AAFP, 2019).


The poisonous effects of lead have been documented for over 2,000 years. It is an environmental toxin whose effects are totally preventable; it has no biological role in the human body. Lead causes irreversible brain damage, especially in children. It affects numerous organs, such as the heart and kidneys, and influences behavior and cognition measured by IQ scores and other tests. Researchers have postulated that lead poisoning contributes to higher rates of impulsive behavior, attention deficit disorders, and poorer ability to process information. Nonetheless, the law does not require testing of all children for dangerous lead levels.

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THE SAME OLD STORY – BAHAMA EXPLOITS AND DEPORTS HAITIANS

by Ellen Isaacs

October 18, 2019

What could be more ironic and cruel than witnessing the increasingly racist and nationalist mistreatment and expulsion of Haitians following the devastation wrought by hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas? How does a former victim of British colonialism become a fount of racist nationalism itself? How do the citizens of the only land to have overthrown slavery in modern history deserve this treatment? Because, unfortunately, racism and nationalism are the strategies with which governments around the globe retain power.

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Maternal Mortality-Racism Kills

by Karyn Pomerantz, October 13, 2019

Washington, DC has the highest rate of maternal death in the country, and deaths of black mothers and pregnant women are three times higher than white women. The  maternal mortality rate is 33 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national rate of 17 and Maryland’s 12 deaths. This huge disparity persists no matter what the level of income or education.

So what does the DC government do? Rather than improving and reopening an obstetric service at United Medical Center (UMC), which was closed because of poor quality, the City wants to replace it with a for-profit, union-busting hospital that will take years to build, leaving women far from hospitals for delivery and emergency care. UMC (formerly Greater Southeast Hospital) serves residents of Wards 7 and 8, primarily black families, where there are high rates of poor housing, poverty, unemployment and displacement as developers ravage historic neighborhoods to enrich the rich. Housing insecurity and homelessness multiply the stress for pregnant women and new mothers dealing with inadequate income and a new life to support. 

At this writing, there will be 2 community meetings to organize and protest this attack on women’s health (see below for URLs):

October 21: City Paper Community Conversations – HEALTH & WELLNESS: The State of Maternal Health in D.C., 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT), The Outrage – 1722 14th Street NW DC

October 25: Health Public Oversight Hearing, 11:00 am, Wilson Building Room 412, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, DC, 20004.  Come testify for a public 

The DC Health Justice Coalition, a coalition of anti-racist activists, health care advocates, and community organizations, have mobilized to fight these plans. They organized community forums and a social media presence (DC Health Justice Coalition on Facebook), and plan to testify before community and City Council hearings. Other NGOs have produced analyses and recommendations for years. In 2018, the City established the Maternal Mortality Review Committee to ascertain the reasons for the high rates in order to implement solutions. It will initiate meetings and hearings soon.

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