the realities of racism
September 18, 2020

Even in a year with an overwhelming number of excess deaths, the mortality rate of Black Americans stands out.

Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 this year, and data has shown the disease has disproportionately affected Black Americans. But the mortality rate for Black Americans is already so high that even if their coronavirus deaths weren't counted, Black mortality would be higher than white, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a demographer focused on mortality, racial inequality, and historical infectious disease, writes for Slate.

Black mortality was at its lowest in 2014, at a level of 1,061 deaths per 100,000 Black people in the country when adjusted for age, Wrigley-Field notes. But even with the coronavirus pandemic, white Americans' mortality in 2020 was far lower than that. Another 400,000 white people would have to die this year just to reach that lowest-ever year rate for Black Americans. From there, Wrigley-Field drew another conclusion: "If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality."

"In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest," Wrigley-Field writes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicated Black Americans were 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Americans, were 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and were 2.1 times more likely to die of it. But Wrigley-Field notes these hypotheticals help point out one outstanding fact: "Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID." Read more at Slate. Kathryn Krawczyk

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