Yes, COVID-19 has no colour or age, but the stats say otherwise

Just this past week, I shared an infographic on social media that stated minorities make up 49% of Toronto’s population but make 83% of COVID-19 cases in the city. Some of my peers commented their disagreement with the idea of collecting race-based data. The discussion that followed caused me to think more critically about why some white people feel uncomfortable acknowledging race-based data.

I would argue it’s because it involves facing one’s privilege but many choose to refuse that it even exists. However, the privilege exists and the statistics prove that.

After doing some research, I found that Ireland is in somewhat of a similar position. A study published by the Economic and Social Research Institute found that workers in many essential occupations are particularly vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. The severe implications stem from underlying chronic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, or heart disease. Along with chronic illness, older age and living in a deprived area have been linked to worse health outcomes such as more severe illness, hospitalisation, and mortality from COVID-19.

Those working in frontline occupations such as agricultural workers, elementary cleaning, road transport drivers, care professions, and migrant workers represent the largest number of workers over age 50 and who live in areas of high deprivation.

Frontline workers are considered to be the most essential during the pandemic, however they are still paid low wages and in unsecured positions. Another report by the ESRI, Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market, details the connections between minorities and low economic status in Ireland. Combining the information from my research has led to me being able to conclude that racialized folk are the most vulnerable in contracting COVID-19. Numerous layers of systemic oppression are responsible for this result which is why specific approaches need to be taken by the Irish and Canadian governments to combat this.

These findings make it clear that it is a privilege to work from home and therefore lessen one’s risk of being exposed to the virus. For racialized people living in low income households, they are not afforded this luxury. Their choices are between not working and risking not being able to afford food and shelter, or go to work and risk their safety in possible exposure. It’s a lose-lose situation when the government neglects putting policy in place that adequately protects these groups.

During the discussion on my social media regarding race-based data, one of my peers commented that those who are contracting COVID-19 are simply the ones who are “not following the rules” or have “poor hygiene practices”. These neoliberal notions that place the responsibility on the individual are problematic because they fail to address the structural reasons. It’s also racist to assume that those who get sick are solely at fault individually when the matter being discussed is focused on people of colour making up the majority of COVID-19 cases. The bottom line is that these communities are not voluntarily risking their lives. They were forced into this situation because of societies that refuse to accept the role colonialism and imperialism has played in disenfranchising people of colour for centuries.

It’s time to stop being blind to the facts. Ignoring it enables systemic racism and contributes to a larger power system that continues to place Black, Indigenous, and people of colour at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy. Again, I want to emphasize that this pandemic has exacerbated these structural flaws. We are in need of solutions that provide equitable access and protection to all.

References

Hilliard, M. (2020). Lower paid essential workers face highest risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19. The Irish Times. Retrieved 7 August 2020, from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/lower-paid-essential-workers-face-highest-risk-of-severe-outcomes-from-covid-19-1.4315036?mode=amp.

McGinnity, F., Grotti, R., Groarke, S., & Coughlan, S. (2020). Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market [Ebook]. ESRI. Retrieved 7 August 2020

Some essential workers particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. ESRI. (2020). Retrieved 7 August 2020, from https://www.esri.ie/news/some-essential-workers-particularly-vulnerable-to-covid-19.

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