In March, the world witnessed a virus that quickly hit close to home as it impacted children and families all over the world. Youth and kids have tried to cope with the isolation and anxiety that comes with the virtuality of COVID-19 in lieu of in-person connections. Communities adjust to the isolation of the pandemic, but the way in which COVID-19 impacts individuals and communities is largely influenced by privilege and oppression.
Research shows that there are long lasting disparities between White populations and communities of color. Everyday experiences, including racism, impact the way in which we experience the world. Today, with the trauma of the pandemic in parallel with the trauma derived from a string of brutal police killings, Black communities and communities of color do not have time to grieve. While these communities are innately resilient, these communities are emotionally, physically, and mentally tired, yet this trauma is diminished when communities are blamed for the inequities they face.
During a hearing in the Ohio statehouse, State Senator Steve Huffman asked if “the ‘colored population’ is more likely to get COVID-19 because they don’t ‘wash their hands as well as other populations…But why does it not make them more susceptible to just get COVID? Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for the higher incidence?”
Huffman was later fired from his job as an emergency room doctor. It is important to iterate that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 does not exist in the biology or culture of communities of color. Instead, it exists because of the social and environmental impact of racial trauma and adversity.
Racial Trauma: Race-based traumatic stress, refers to the stressful impact or emotional pain of one’s experience with racism and discrimination.
Privilege reproduces the pandemic as a trauma in tandem with the racial, cultural, and historical traumas of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) communities. An indicator from our KIDS COUNT Data Center highlights, Virginia’s children of color represent 47 percent of the kids across the Commonwealth. Children of color grow up to be adults. Systemic oppression and injustices negatively impact their ability to be resilient.
As of June 25, 2020, the Virginia Department of Health reports there have been nearly 60,000 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia, with 55 percent of those cases impacting non-white communities. Within the broader context across Virginia, the Latinx population represents less than 10 percent of the total population but represents 45 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Unfortunately, we see these disparities growing as the Virginia Department of Health posts regular updates (1).
The solution requires more than resources; it requires the trust of these communities. America has a history of racism that exists within the healthcare systems and this racism still reproduces itself through healthcare biases and policy in some cases. Dr. Max Luna, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and director of the UVA Latino Health Initiative states, “It is the particular socioeconomic struggle that many are confronting that exposes them to the transmission and to continued infection.” Communities of color are more likely to work essential jobs or live in housing that makes isolation difficult. There is no single solution to correct the systemic oppression these communities face.
Economic Trauma: A sustained stressful impact or emotional pain of one’s experience with lack of financial opportunities and poverty.
As advocates for youth and children, Voices recognizes that the inequities children of color face during this time are further exhausted. United for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) is an indicator used to define households that have income above the Federal Poverty Level. These households do not qualify for many public benefits, but also not enough to afford a basic household budget.
According to United for ALICE, one-third of families with children in the U.S. have income below the ALICE threshold (2). These same families face vulnerabilities in relation to access to healthcare, child care and school closures, and the economic instability that serves as a root issue when it comes to access to food, housing, and more.
“ALICE workers play essential roles in state and national economies, building and repairing our infrastructure and educating and caring for our past, current, and future workforce. Some are in the trenches caring for COVID-19 patients. Yet, many ALICE workers do not have basic employee protections — such as annual salary, adequate health care coverage, and access to other benefits — that would help them withstand the COVID-19 crisis” (2).
The experiences of children and youth during this pandemic are largely impacted by access to technology, child care, food, housing, transportation, and health care in addition to whether their caregivers are classified as essential or not.
Amidst COVID-19, the world witnesses the trauma of the pandemic and the modern-day Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, both of which disproportionately impact BIPOC communities.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris stated, “We have to help health care providers understand how trauma affect’s people’s health. It is just like lead poising. Doctors can do medical treatment to help reduce the impact of lead on someone’s health. But the real answer is to get lead out of the paint.”
Systematic racism is derived from historical racism, but this racism is further exacerbated by institutions, structures, and environmental disparities. Eliminating racism in parallel with racial trauma requires interventions at all levels, from individuals to the family, community and nation (3). Local governments in Charlotte, N.C, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Denver have declared racism as a public health crisis. Despite the pandemic, communities of color and allies are advocating for change.
As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris notes, “the images of masked protesters carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs are starkly juxtaposed to the heroic efforts we are all making to protect our communities from coronavirus against our feckless efforts to curb the sickness of racism that has infected America since its birth.” The Commonwealth has an opportunity to make intentional decisions to be a part of the solution. We all have a decision to make.
1.Virginia Department of Health: COVID-19 in Virginia. (2020). Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/
2. United for ALICE: COVID-19 AND ALICE. (2020). Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.unitedforalice.org/covid19
3. Ressler, M. (2020). Family and Children’s Trust Fund of Virginia. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from http://www.fact.virginia.gov/
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