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Clutch your pearls and contain your shock: gender and racial inequality are still problems in America.

Coronavirus Reveals America’s Pre-existing Conditions, Part 2: Racial and Gender Inequality

This is Part 2. Click here to read Part 1.

Hello friends, and welcome back to Everything Hurts and I’m Dying with your hosts, the Bitches!

Last week I hit you with a massively depressing article on how the coronavirus has simply exacerbated problems the United States already had before the pandemic ever reached our shores. If you had the mental fortitude to wade through all that, then you have my admiration and respect. Can I also get you a cup of tea and a massage? You earned it.

If not, here’s what you missed:

  • Coronavirus took an already unfair and unaffordable health insurance industry and exacerbated the problem, throwing still more Americans into medical debt and outright killing others who couldn’t afford treatment.
  • All the problems labor rights activists have been fighting to fix for decades were illuminated in stark relief by the mass unemployment that followed coronavirus lock-down relief efforts.
  • The eviction epidemic in the United States, which was already at crisis levels, became an utter catastrophe when low-income workers who were recently laid off couldn’t pay their rent anymore. Eviction and rent moratoriums were but a band-aid on the wound.

All of these issues disproportionately affect low-income and impoverished Americans. So this week, in Part 2, I’m going to address the demographics who are disproportionately represented among the poor and low-income. Hope you didn’t expect sudden egalitarianism in the midst of a pandemic and recession!

Let’s get to it.

Racial inequality

I am not surprised that one of the largest anti-racism protest movements in American history is occurring at the height of a pandemic. Racism is alive and well in these United States, and some things are too important to stop fighting for even if doing so carries the risk of death.

The preexisting conditions

By almost every metric that matters, people of color in the United States are at a social and economic disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. Especially African Americans.

Income. Access to nutritional food. Generational wealth. Access to high quality, affordable healthcare. Safe and stable housing. Access to high quality education. Career opportunities. Violence. Stress- and poverty-related health problems. And of course: they are disproportionately the targets of police violence and discrimination.

All of these compounding factors lead to a system in which Blacks and people of color are more likely to suffer from health problems and poverty, which in itself can be disastrous for an individual’s health.

And our country has a long and sordid history of discriminating against people of color in healthcare. It goes all the way back to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, nonconsensual sterilization of black women, researchers taking advantage of Blacks for medical research, and honest-to-dog doctors spreading misinformation about how black people have thicker skin, fewer nerve endings, and therefore don’t feel pain as badly as their melanin-depleted peers.

Not only are these examples of straight-up human rights violations, but this history has spread a justifiable mistrust of the medical establishment among the Black community. You might think twice about getting that strange lump treated if you consider how your grandpa went in for a check-up and died of syphilis nine months later.

Enter ‘Rona

Is it any wonder, in light of this historical, cultural lack of access to and mistrust of medical care, that the coronavirus is infecting people of color at a higher rate than white people? And, therefore, that they’re suffering severe health complications and even dying?

Partly this is because people of color (particularly Black and Latine people) disproportionately make up the working poor and those in service industries. These “essential workers” often don’t have the choice to shelter at home and social distance if they want to keep their jobs. As a result, they’re more likely to come into contact with an infected person.

Black and brown Americans are also more likely to live in multi-generational or communal housing. More people to a dwelling means more opportunities for the virus to spread if even one member of a household is infected. It’s hard to social distance in the fucking projects.

Yet it’s not only Black and Latine people suffering extra because of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic’s origins in China, Asians in the United States faced discrimination, backlash, and blame for “bringing” the virus here, especially in the early days of the pandemic.

Our own Dear Leader solidified that lovely little racist angle by immortalizing the disease as “the Chinese virus” to the entire country.

Gender inequality

Clutch your pearls and contain your shock: gender inequality is still a problem in America.

Hear that? That was the sound of a thousand MRAs rushing to the comments to tell me gender inequality is a myth.

The preexisting conditions

There are thousands of ways in which discrimination on the basis of gender negatively affects American women. The Notorious RBG, may She rest in power on the celestial Supreme Court, built an entire career out of it. But let’s focus on two:

  1. The Mommy Track. Women, even when they are employed, are generally the primary caretakers of children. Working mothers have always been punished—whether inadvertently or not—by a lack of flexibility, legal protections, and allowances for raising children. It’s not that employers necessarily booted mothers out of the workforce… they simply didn’t bother to create a work environment with the needs of working mothers in mind. Mandatory paid maternity leave is not a thing in the United States. Neither is subsidized day care in most circumstances, or flexible work hours, or on-site childcare, or any of a dozen other measures that would make it possible for women to successfully balance employment and motherhood.
  2. Domestic violence. Women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence at the hands of their male partners. Whether that violence is physical, emotional, or financial, many women have little legal recourse. And those who do manage to escape their abusers often find themselves at greater risk of physical harm or even murder.

Insert obligatory link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline here. Stay safe and reach out for help, my lambs.

Enter ‘Rona

So what happens to women’s jobs when children have to stay home because daycares and schools are closed?

The New York Times, in a staggeringly tone-deaf and also grim headline, writes “Pandemic Will ‘Take Our Women 10 Years Back’ in the Workplace.” We can workshop that title till the cows come home, but the bare facts of the matter are that women’s rights and workplace gender equity were not nearly stable enough to withstand the country’s response to the pandemic.

The NYT article quotes economist Claudia Olivetti as saying,

“The bottom line is that based on decades of research we know that there was one institution that was effective at limiting gender inequality and encouraging women’s participation in the workplace, and it was early childhood education.”

Claudia Olivetti, Dartmouth College

And there it is. One single thread was pulled and the entire sweater of women’s workplace equality unraveled. As soon as the schools closed and students were forced to socially distance, mothers and women caretakers all over the country had to try to work while simultaneously supervising children.

As with most things, wealth and class help balance things out for those who have them. Even as I write this article, I’m being paid to supervise a group of seven fourth graders in a hotel conference room while they log into online classrooms and their parents go to work. It’s something I’m not only happy to do… but I can do because I’m self-employed and don’t have children of my own.

But every child in my group has parents with the means to pay for a conference room, a laptop, and a tutor like me who will ensure the kids interact safely with each other while masking and social distancing . It is without doubt a wonderful setup that benefits both the kids and their working mothers.

Their parents’ maids, nannies, and personal assistants have no such luxury.

So as usual, it is poor women who suffer the brunt of gender discrimination. And it’s poor women who had the most to lose when coronavirus compounded their fragile employment stability.

As to domestic violence? Women who might have had an escape hatch before the pandemic are now literally trapped inside, quarantining with their abusers. And if my own quarantine is any indication, that can put a strain on even the most normal, healthy relationship… let alone an abusive one.

It was sadly predictable that domestic violence has risen to a pandemic within the pandemic of coronavirus.

Here’s more on how to cope with the effects of coronavirus on your career and finances:

Prison reform

If you have not yet read our review of Michelle  Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, all about how the current criminal justice and private prison system was built to replace racist apartheid laws after Reconstruction, you now have your homework assignment.

Fair warning: it’ll make you want to burn down prisons, defund the police, and abolish our criminal justice system to start from scratch.

The preexisting conditions

The contemporary criminal justice system is inherently racist. It has its origins in the post-Reconstruction South, where bands of hooded white supremacist terrorists gave way to armed guards overseeing chain gangs. And as Alexander shows with blistering clarity in her book, African Americans and other people of color are to this day disproportionately targeted and punished by the criminal justice system.

Our prisons are filled with the marginalized: Black men and women, impoverished people of all races, survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, the mentally ill, the poorly educated, and Latine people. Most are non-violent offenders, or those with drug offenses that called for a mandatory minimum sentence.

Compounding the discriminatory roots of our criminal justice system is that carbuncle on the big toe of humanity: private prisons. I sincerely hope you don’t need me to explain how a for-profit prison that makes money off of inmates incentivizes mass incarceration.

Enter ‘Rona

Prisons are petri dishes where social distancing is impossible. By the very nature of being, y’know, prisons, inmates are crammed in with little personal space and no liberty to make their own decisions about where to go and with whom they interact.

Staff members go in and out, and with them, the virus. A single prison staff member could contract coronavirus out in the world, then bring it to work, spreading the virus to inmates and staff, who then spread it to the outside community.

And all the infected inmates? They’re not exactly being treated with the highest standard of care.

As a result, Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio was the country’s biggest coronavirus hotspot starting all the way back in April. Inmates are contracting the virus—and dying from it—at an alarming rate.

If this virus were sentient, it would be champing at the bit to get into prison!

And lest you think all them serial killers and rapists and puppy kickers deserve to die of a horrific disease… see above. Most incarcerated Americans are non-violent offenders. Some are in for drug offenses that are now perfectly legal. And the elderly prison population is at particular risk.

All of these inmates are sitting ducks for COVID-19. Why not just release non-violent offenders, those whose sentences are nearly complete, the immunocompromised, and elderly inmates? Oh right. Because private prisons are a capitalist endeavor. Somebody makes money on the number of people incarcerated. Which is why the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Because black and brown people are disproportionately represented in prisons, this is exacerbating the lopsided racial effects of coronavirus. All of which could have been avoided if we’d gotten our (big) house in order long before the pandemic reared its ugly head.

I’ll end the discussion of coronavirus in prisons with a quote from a letter Michelle Alexander received from an inmate:

Herein lies the cause of the profound spread of the virus throughout the institution: the collective sense of the undeservingness of prisoners. A vaccination would be nice. Proper P.P.E. would help. But the real cure for our woes is an affirmation of the inalienable entitlement to life for people in prisons and jails.

Let Our People Go

Immigration

We are a country of immigrants, some of us more recent than others. (Shout out to my fellow grandchildren of immigrants!) Which is why it’s so baffling that our current cultural and political response to immigration is to slam and lock the door behind us.

The pre-existing conditions

Anti-immigrant sentiment is as American as apple pie. It goes all the way back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Ellis Island. But most recently, the American government has been primarily concerned with immigration from majority Muslim countries and along the Southern border. You know: where the brown people come from.

There was the “Muslim ban” of a few years ago that literally made it illegal for people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Man, remember when that was the worst thing the Trump administration had done? Those were the days. The horrific, xenophobic days!

Then there was the way the current administration claimed to crack down on illegal immigration… but really just made it harder for asylum seekers and legal refugees to enter the country legally.

Separating families at the border led to every parent’s nightmare: losing their children, never to be reunited. And even those children who were returned to their parents suffered a huge psychological toll.

The normal process of legal immigration through the southern border ground to a halt as there simply were not enough judges and courts to process all the asylum seekers.

In other words: immigration was already a crisis long before a deadly global pandemic came along.

Enter ‘Rona

Title 42 is a statute that allows the government to temporarily shut the borders to prevent the spread of disease. Given how hard the presidency worked for the first three years of its administration to prevent immigration, I imagine it was with Grinch-stealing-Christmas levels of glee that they ramped up use of Title 42 at the start of the pandemic.

Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, who already had to endure interminable waits, were basically caught in limbo. And much like inmates in prisons, all those immigrants in tent cities, jails, and detention centers couldn’t fucking social distance.

In some ways, immigrants at the southern border are in an even worse position than prison inmates. For one thing, their numbers include children, the elderly, pregnant women, and other vulnerable people. For another, some are literally escaping from violent gangs, cartels, and hostile governments. Running for your life tends to lower the quality of that life quite a bit, making you still more susceptible to disease.

Infection, therefore, is spreading like wildfire through refugees and immigrants along the southern border—an entirely predictable situation to anyone paying attention to the immigration crisis for the last few years.

What can we do?

Yesterday was Election Day in America. And you should all have voted like lives depended on it. Because they do.

We beat you over the head with the why and how of voting back during the 2018 midterms. So if you genuinely need advice on how to inform yourself, cast a ballot, or build up the courage to care, I suggest you read that advice.

But this was not the 2018 midterms. It wasn’t even a do-over of the 2016 presidential election. This was not a normal election. And it ain’t over yet. As of publication, they’re still counting the ballots.

This election was not to decide political strategy—when to raise taxes and by how much. We’re deciding whether to keep in place draconian immigration laws that separate children from their families and send refugees and asylum seekers away to die violent deaths at the hands of criminals. Deciding to militantly maintain the racist status quo in our criminal justice system, or to at least make an attempt at policing and prison reforms. We’re deciding to double-down on inequality or to enfranchise Americans from all walks of life. Deciding to continue badly mishandling this pandemic to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths… or to take serious action to protect ourselves from coronavirus.

No matter what the outcome of the presidential election: our work is not done. The issues I’ve highlighted above will not magically resolve themselves if Joe Biden takes office in January. And we shouldn’t stop fighting to fix them if Donald Trump is re-inaugurated.

And that’s the message I want to leave you with: Don’t stop fighting. Fucking don’t. Our work is far from done. We elect politicians to represent our interests, to make decisions on our behalf. Hold them to their promises. Keep an eye on their shifty asses and make sure they follow through. Get people in office who understand that they serve at the pleasure of the American people… and make them frighteningly aware of our displeasure.

Our elected officials should be shaking in their goddamn boots right now. But we run the risk of allowing them to sit back and do little in the way of reforming our broke-ass country if we get complacent. Don’t get complacent. Don’t rest. Keep fighting.

Your job is to constantly remind your leaders of the staggering human rights violations occurring in our country. Your job is to give them nightmares about the consequences of doing nothing in the face of this pandemic.

And I’m not only talking about the president.

All across the country yesterday, states elected governors, senators, representatives, city council members. We voted these people into office, and if they fail in their duty as public servants, we can vote them out.

Stay involved, my friends. The fight isn’t over yet.

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