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COVID Slams Ethnic Minorities

As the COVID-19 vaccination program rolls out erratically across the US, research increasingly shows that health inequities underlying who gets infected will also affect who gets vaccinated.

In telling statistics reported by the CDC and KFF, people of color are more likely to be infected or hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus.

The numbers are stark.

Compared to whites, American Indians are 1.9 times more likely to be infected, African Americans nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, and Latinx people 2.4 times more likely to die.

Asian Americans are the highest risk for hospitalization and death among any ethnic group. In San Francisco, it’s reported that  Asian Americans consistently account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths.

It’s impossible to ignore the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities. Even though all communities are at risk for COVID-19, the socioeconomic status of people of color, and their occupations in frontline, essential and infrastructure jobs puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

For minority communities, it means that where you live and where you work shapes how the virus impacts your health, while inadequate access to healthcare makes you more vulnerable to its consequences.

“The pandemic has exposed the “underlying health disparities, social determinants of health, systemic inequalities and discrimination contribute to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on all communities of color,” said Adam Carbullido of AAPCHO, at an EMS press briefing on February 12, about health inequities in the pandemic.

Health advocates predicted that an inequitable distribution of vaccines was inevitable, given the high rates at which Blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups were being infected and dying in each wave of the pandemic.

This is borne out by data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) which is tracking vaccine distribution. For example, fewer black people are getting vaccines despite a higher rate of COVID 19 cases. In Delaware only 6% of Blacks were vaccinated though 24% were infected, and in Louisiana, only 13% of Blacks received vaccines though 34% were infected, while in Mississippi, 38% of Blacks were infected but only 17% got the vaccine.

However, the lack of disaggregated racial data at the state and national level is hobbling equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, noted Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras of the Latino Coalition Against COVID-19. Currently only 20 US states are reporting racial data.

Given that it’s primarily Black and Latino workers in essential jobs,  it’s imperative to consider who’s at high risk when making decisions about reopening the economy, he added.

If we cannot quantify racial disparity in vaccine distribution, warned Lloveras, it will be difficult to develop interventions to ensure vaccines are given to those who need it most.

Health disparities between whites and people of color that are impacting vaccine distribution, are “gaps that have become chasms,” said Lloveras. The vaccine roll out “inherently prioritizes a population that is not reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus”, added Virginia Hedrick, of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health.

In American Indian country, inequitable vaccine distribution is merely a reflection of the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous communities that has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing over the long term, said Hedric resulting in the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorders. Its only because of advocacy that the Indian Health Service has a separate vaccine reserve allocated to urban and tribal Indian American communities.

Barriers to Better Health  & Vaccines

Several other factors create barriers to better health and getting a vaccine among people of color.

Ethnic minorities tend to live in densely populated areas which makes social distancing difficult, and often in multi generation family homes which put elders at risk. They may use public transportation which could expose them the virus, and lack health insurance or healthcare access.

Farmworkers and the elderly face similar barriers in the form of digital literacy, language barriers and internet access, said Lloveras.  With stay at home orders in place, telehealth depends on who has access to technology. He suggested providing Internet access hotspots and community classes on computer literacy to expand digital access for underserved minorities.

The lack of a robust public healthcare system requires that we provide the technology to help people see a doctor and register for vaccines.

In Asian communities, added Carbullido, patients of Asian descent report fear in getting help they need because of emotional trauma caused by racism and xenophobic attacks associated with the virus.

Yet, many ethnic minorities are reluctant to get their shot because they mistrust the government. Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine tracker data reports ‘fear of side effects” prevents people from obtaining the vaccine.

Lloveras proposed ‘a gigantic digital patient engagement project’ to address vaccine hesitancy to set the path to herd immunity and a semblance of normal life .

Missteps in California

Each state’s scramble to acquire and distribute vaccines signaled an unpreparedness for a public health crisis like the coronavirus, said Dr.David Carlyle, President and CEO of the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine, calling California’s missteps in the pandemic a “failure of public policy.”

When MLK Community Hospital, a 130-bed facility at the epicenter of the pandemic in Los Angeles County tried to transfer its sickest patients to nearby tertiary hospitals for oxygenation, they were repeatedly refused because because their patients did not have health insurance. When the vaccine roll out flatlined mid-February, high volume vaccine centers (LA Forum, Dodgers Stadium) in LA county closed mid -February, because supplies of vaccine doses ran out. Commercial pharmacies placed vaccination sites in smaller, less diverse towns like Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach, while Los Angeles, a city of 8 million was allotted just one site.

“In my estimation we weren’t prepared for COVID 19.” Carlyle concluded.

A Robust Rescue Package

Given the lack of a robust public health system, panelists urged Congress to bolster the public health infrastructure with a bold COVID 19 rescue package for testing, treatment, vaccine distribution.

They called for increased investment in public health and community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve marginalized communities which have more chronic medical issues and higher risk factors for complications of COVID19.  CBOs are vital in reaching communities of color and other hard hit communities, by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services where government and private institutions have fallen short. Supporting CBOs could mitigate the health inequities of the COVID19 crisis, said Carbullido.

The pandemic overwhelmed most healthcare systems which were not prepared or adequately funded creating crises like the MLKCH that Carlyle called “a  perfect example of the inhumanity of equities in healthcare.”

But “the pandemic has not created these inequities,” concluded Hedrick, “it’s simply highlighting them.”

More information is available at:
https://bit.ly/vaccines-race-data
https://ccuih.org/


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Will California Voters Bring Back Affirmative Action?

Will California voters pass Proposition 16 and bring back Affirmative Action?

In California today, African American and Latino students make up 60% of high school seniors in public schools statewide, and, yet they represent only 29% of undergraduates of the UC system at all campuses.

That statistic is “a measure of the dramatic disparities that we continue to see in the state of California that we are not able to address aggressively because of Proposition 209, enacted in1996,” said Thomas Saenz,  Chair of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), at an EMS telebriefing on September 18.

Saenz called the divisive measure which banned the use of Affirmative Action techniques in public education, a ‘misleadingly labelled California Civil Rights Initiative.”

Twenty four years after voters banned race and gender preferences in admissions to public universities in California, Proposition 209 is on the chopping block. In its stead, Proposition 16 is on the ballot to restore Affirmative Action in the upcoming November election.

The wrangling over race-based college admissions is part of an ongoing nationwide debate over Affirmative Action, which is under siege as it battles legal challenges by opponents in the Supreme Court. Last month, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice accused Yale University of illegal admissions discrimination against white and Asian American students.

In California which is already grappling with pandemic-driven economic and health crises, as well as blistering protests against racial injustices, overturning Prop. 209 is proving to be contentious for Affirmative Action advocates.

At the briefing, proponents of YES on Proposition16 sought to explain why they are seeking to repeal Prop. 29 on the November ballot. These civil rights leaders support Affirmative Action as an effective tool for bridging racial inequities in higher education and the workplace.

Over the last six months, the pandemic has exposed systemic inequities and disparities experienced by people of color, said Saenz.  A crippling economic recession, restrictive public health measures, and the police brutality that triggered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, have forced the nation to acknowledge that communities of color face the brunt of systemic injustice and discrimination.

The pandemic has shown that higher rates of infection and death occur among communities of color, stated Saenz, while the economic recession has particularly hit African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans, who have endured severe job loss and reduction in wages.

But, the BLM demonstrations which invigorated a necessary discussion on reforming law enforcement practices in the country, clearly frames why passing Prop 16 is vital.

Impact of Prop. 209

Prop. 209 is responsible for the shortage of qualified officers and sheriffs deputies in California, stated Saenz. Counties and cities in the state “could not engage in targeted hiring of Black, Latino or Asian American officers,” solely because of Prop. 209.

“What Prop. 209 did was to add a paragraph to the state Constitution, prohibiting the use of Affirmative Action techniques – race conscious, gender conscious techniques in public education, public employment and public contracting,” he commented.

It posed curbs on K-12 public education and higher education, that culminated in a dramatic drop in the number of African American and Latino students on University of California campuses, noted Saenz, adding that, “most notoriously, the University of California Law School at Berkeley ended up with just one African American student in the first class selected after Prop. 209.”

Proposition 209 passed in 1996 with 55% of the California vote, but, an LA Times exit poll reported that a super majority of voters opposed Prop 209 with 79%  Latino, 74% African American, 61 % of Asian Americans and 52 % of women of all races voting NO on the measure.

Twenty four years later the impact of Prop. 209 is still evident. But as demographics of voters have changed in California, said Saenz, he racially divisive measure would have had a totally different outcome if the percentages of “super majorities’ among voters of color in opposition to Prop 209 apply today. Now voters of color form almost 42% of registered voters in California, a substantially higher figure than those that went to the polls than1996.

The Supreme Court & Affirmative Action

Another change is that the US Supreme Court has considerably narrowed the circumstances under which any public entity can employ race or gender-based Affirmative Action, restrictions which will apply in California even if Prop 16 passes. It has has weighed in on Affirmative Action programs since 1996, said Saenz, citing cases from the University of Michigan and University of Texas as evidence. The upshot is that the Supreme Court has become much more ‘descriptive’ about what is permitted and what is required in pursuing Affirmative Action.

Since 1978, the Supreme Court has prohibited the use of quotas or ‘set asides’ based on race or gender in the public realm. It also has mandated that any public entity considering Affirmative Action must first undergo a ‘rigorous analysis’ of disparities and consideration of policy changes before they put in place a narrowly tailored program to consider race or gender. That would involve for example, examining disparities in the percentages of 12 graders versus undergraduates, identifying the causes of those disparities, and considering race or gender-neutral approaches to address them, before implementing Affirmative Action measures.

This could result in positive effects for all races and genders created as a result of Prop.16, noted Saenz. However, despite the Supreme Court requirement that predates Prop. 209, the UC system has prevented the rigorous examination of such disparities.  Prop. 209 unfortunately, has prevented state policymakers from engaging in the careful consideration of policy approaches that could help resolve the problem.

At its core, Affirmative Action is intended to correct socio-economic equities that go back generations. Together with the Supreme Court requirement for scrutiny, Prop. 16 will help eliminate biased criterion from hiring practices or university admissions in the public arena. For example, it could remove discriminatory standardized tests from the university admissions process, since they do not co-relate to student performance after their freshman year, and it would put pressure on policy makers to engage in the rigorous analysis of disparities.

Given the fallout of the pandemic on people of color, passing Prop. 16 is critical to the future of equal opportunity for people of color in California, reiterated Saenz.

The term Affirmative Action may have worn out its political welcome, but will California voters see Prop. 16 leveling the playing field or simply as a zero sum game?


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Can We Move Beyond ‘Wash, Rinse, Repeat’ Cycle Of Protests?

Nothing has changed except the year

The COVID 19 pandemic, which has dominated the news throughout much of 2020, took a knee this week, as the U.S. turned its collective zeitgeist to the issue of police brutality against African American men.

Cities across the nation erupted in civic unrest over the alleged murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd. Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, not letting up even as the victim pleaded: “I can’t breathe,” before becoming unresponsive. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, have been charged as accomplices in Floyd’s death and jailed.

“Black lives just don’t matter. That is the bottom line here. Black lives haven’t mattered since the inception of this nation,” said Dr. Jody Armour, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, during a June 5 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Armour said there is a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle to addressing the civil rights of African Americans.

Armour’s first book, ‘Negrophobia & Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America’ was published in 1997 by New York University Press. “It was really about every one of the issues we’re talking about today,” he said.

“Nothing’s changed, except what year it is,” said Armour, adding that each time there’s an eruption over police brutality. commissions are convened, public hearings are held, people vent their frustrations, and interventions — such as the use of body cams and implicit bias training — are put in place.

“And here we are looking at a moment in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the police department had all those interventions. They were one of the early departments to start implementing all those interventions and it didn’t solve the problem. I think we’re coming to the realization that there’s not a technological fix,” said Armour.

Armour, along with three other speakers, called for cities to de-fund their law enforcement budgets and re-route the money to social services, with an aim to staunching the numbers of African American hostile encounters with police and addressing structural racial and ethnic inequities.  He encouraged cities like New York, where 200 police officers actively arrest subway turnstile jumpers, to re-focus on high-level crimes.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, an internal medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, described racism as both a social determinant of health and as a disease itself.  “Police brutality is a disease vector,” Tung said.

“Chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely to the release of stress, hormones, and neurotransmitters,” said Nguyen, adding: “We also know that acute exposure to racism can lead to death,  as in the case of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.”

An expert on health disparities, Tung noted that one out of 2000 black Americans have died in the pandemic, and their mortality rate is two to three times more than white people.

“The pandemic has severely stretched all of our dysfunctional systems — health, economic, legal, and political — to their limits and broken them. We can no longer pretend that they were good enough. They were never good enough, except for those of us who enjoy privilege,” stated Nguyen.

Nguyen noted the absence of data for minority communities needs to be corrected but added that “I’m not a typical academic research who only asks for more data. At my university, it seems like every single black man, from the janitor to the tenured professor has a police encounter story. To me, that’s data.”

Nguyen reiterated the point in his final statement. “One out of 1000 black men can be expected to be shot by the police in their lifetime. We don’t need more data.”

Thomas A. Saenz, President and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed his hope that the nationwide rage against Floyd’s brutal death, would result in some tangible interventions.

“It’s ironic that today we are experiencing these crises under perhaps the most openly racist and exclusionary president,” said Saenz.

Saenz warned against “perpetuating and even facilitating discriminatory disparities which our underlying culture still accepts… if we cannot attribute them directly to intentional and openly-expressed racial discrimination.”

As the nation begins to recover, Saenz predicted that people of color will be the last to be hired.

The civil rights advocate noted that most undocumented people have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and pay taxes but did not receive $1,200 stimulus checks. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stated that immigrant students are ineligible for emergency financial aid.

Saenz also warned that the pandemic has already impacted the 2020 Census and will likely lead to an under-count of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. “This will have long-term impacts throughout the decade, not only on political representation of those groups, but on funding for services to those communities,” he said.

John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC)  noted that Asian Americans have had a history of both implicit and explicit bias against African Americans.

“Asian Americans have not always stood up for the African American community, and that has to change,” stated Yang, adding: “I do think that this moment with George Floyd has caused us to see things differently.”

“The community, I think, has responded with more solidarity that have, I have seen than in past incidents,” he said.

Many Asian American civil rights organizations have lambasted former Minnesota officer Thao for standing by as Chauvin pressed into Floyd. In the video, Thao can be seen trying to shoo away bystanders.

“We recognize that there was racism within our own community, and we recognize that has to be addressed,” said Yang.

“Part of the answer is having those hard conversations with our own community, recognizing our own biases and trying to come up, developing a path forward from there,” he said.

Journey from Coerced Sterilization to Misinformation

The dialogue around health and healthcare systems has increased at similar rates to that of the pandemic. Fingers are pointed at the lack of ventilators, hospital beds, and testing kits. 

While it is easy to pick at the chipped paint, the flawed structural foundation becomes glaringly obvious when there is less paint to chip. Much like the horror one might feel seeing a panel of their home infested with termites, America’s structural integrity is threatened by its hegemonic narrative – its own version of termites. Exploration of government policies, in the past and present, is a necessary context for the receptiveness of diverse communities to information from government sources. 

A History of Racialized Care Breeds Distrust

Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting…communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.- Ta-Nehisi Coates

History of racialized care has had an adverse effect on communities of color. Racialized care takes into account your race and subsequently, the healthcare you receive. African American, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI populations are disproportionately subjected to worse healthcare due to income, language barriers, lack of research, and implicit bias from healthcare professionals.

But above all, healthcare in the US is informed and shaped by an oppressive history. Disenfranchised communities have been given reason to be wary of a healthcare system that has been used as a conduit for injustice.

Virginia Hedrick, Executive Director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health and panelist at Ethnic Media Services April 17th briefing on the impact of Coronavirus on diverse communities, noted the distrust of the healthcare system by Native Americans and their unwillingness to believe in the protocols of the pandemic. And why wouldn’t they be skeptical, considering the “sterilization of Native [American] women existed up until 40 years ago”, Hedrick added.

So what were marginalized populations encountering up until 40 years ago? And perhaps even as recently as 10 years ago?

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B Johnson led the Great Society Project in an effort to eliminate poverty by increasing access to welfare and social services. The backlash came from physicians, white men, who took it upon themselves to lower the rates of people on welfare. No short of a God complex, they believed that by sterilizing women of color, they were helping society – limiting birth rates in low-income, minority families. 

Between the 1960s and 1970s, 25% of Native American Women were sterilized by the Indian Health Service; various government programs formed the Indian Health Service. IHS had found that the average Native American woman had 3.79 children to the white woman’s 1.79 children; within 10 years that number declined to 1.99 for the Native American woman. This was attributed to education and higher income but unwanted sterilization was erased from the historical narrative. In actuality, the decrease in births had to do with the use of coerced sterilization as a procedure to help a medical ailment even if it was unrelated or nonconsensual.

A map from a 1929 Swedish royal commission report.

Latin and African women were targeted starting in 1909 when states started adopting eugenics programs. 32 states rallied together to advance eugenics during which 60,000 people were sterilized. In the documentary, “No Mas Bebes”, a Mexican American woman speaks to the trauma of being sterilized while giving birth to her children. This story isn’t dissimilar to the story of sisters, Minnie Relf and Mary Alice, two mentally disabled African American women, whose mother tried to get them birth control shots and, unbeknownst to her, they were surgically sterilized. Relf vs. Weinberger, a landmark case, revealed that 150,000 poor women were coerced into sterilization under the threat of their welfare being taken away from them. 

Mental institutions and prisons became breeding grounds for such programs and even a law was passed allowing anyone committed to state institutions to be sterilized. Until as recently as 2010, there were cases of inhumane treatment in California prisons and it is reported that 150 Latina inmates had been inflicted with forced infertility

Eugenics was just the start of questionable activity by the US government. It progressed beyond sterilization when marginalized populations became lab rats for large-scale experiments. There are 40 documented studies done on incarcerated peoples and we have yet to know the number of undocumented studies; most studies hurt the recipients and yielded no results.

The US Public Health Service worked on a study with Tuskegee University to observe the natural history of untreated Syphilis for 6 months. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, lasting 40 years during which the patients were purposefully misinformed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and eventually, forgotten. 600 impoverished African American men, 399 with Syphilis and 201 without, joined with the promise of free healthcare; healthcare which was inaccessible to the black diaspora due to their race. Without informed consent, those with Syphilis were not told of their condition. Instead, they were led to believe they were being treated for “bad blood”. To make a bad situation worse, the free treatment the patients were receiving was no treatment at all. By 1947, penicillin was discovered as a cure but was not given to these patients for another 25 years. Not a single one of the patients consented to the experiment and many died without ever knowing their actual cause of death or that their death was preventable.

Racialized disparities in health factors in the omission of and lack of care given to minorities. Asian Americans were less likely to be asked about their lifestyle, mental health, and doctors did not understand their background and values. The same study, additionally mentioned that Asian Americans felt their doctors did not listen, spend as much time, or involve them in decisions about their care. Significantly, not much is documented about Asian American health until the 2000s. 

Lack of Access Presently

Genoveva Islas, Founder of Cultiva La Salud and panelist for EMS, is confronting the plight faced by the farmworkers in Fresno. Fresno has 1% of the farmland, provides 25% of the food we’re eating in California, yet the farmworkers don’t have personal protective equipment, health insurance, savings, or retirement funds. A majority of these farmworkers are left out of the CARES Act and their housing and food security are in question. “We need a just and fair immigration system”, Islas advocates, putting the spotlight not on the lack of healthcare, but on our immigration policies that leave immigrants and undocumented people at a disadvantage. She wants to ensure that the pandemic is not a time when those who are already being exploited are driven to the fringes of society without access to basic human rights. 

Distrust is the Seedling and Misinformation is the Byproduct

COVID19 has brought with it an onslaught of news, statistics, and warnings, both fake and real. Minority groups are struggling with effectively parsing and using this information given their inconsistent histories with the US government and healthcare systems. 

Virginia Hedrick reminds us that in Native American populations, the myth is that the Coronavirus “was here in December and that now, there is herd immunity.” Many within Native communities believe that homeopathic remedies have the ability to heal and protect someone from COVID19. 

Another reporter at the EMS video briefing expressed that African American populations are taking social distancing and Coronavirus information lightly. 

One only has to look as far as their WhatsApp groups to find confusing and misleading information and anti-Asian propaganda.

A doctor on the frontline at the University of California, San Francisco, and EMS panelist, Dr. Tung Nguyen, acts a buffer to inaccurate information:

People within your network may be struggling, sifting through information and misinformation (real and fake news) about COVID19. The onus is on our communities to understand that American history is rife with instances of disinformation and misinformation. Discerning what information is relevant requires collective work.

And right now, more than ever, action must be taken against an infodemic that is percolating through the pandemic. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


Featured image is a poster for a 1971 rally against forced sterilization in San Francisco, CA designed by Rachael Romero. (Library of Congress)