The Discriminatory Impact of COVID-19: The Pandemic’s Role in Highlighting Entrenched Racial Inequalities in the US
Posted on July 21, 2020 · Posted in Faculty Associates News, Faculty Journal, Roosevelt House

This series of essays grows out of an online Roosevelt House program broadcast on May 1, 2020 titled “The Discriminatory Impact of COVID-19: The Pandemic’s Role in Highlighting Entrenched Racial Inequalities in the US” presented by the Roosevelt House Human Rights Program, the Hunter Department of Africana, Puerto Rican, and Latino Studies, and the Hunter Asian American Studies Center and Program.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt articulated a vision for America, a vision premised on four basic freedoms, including freedom from fear and freedom from want. While it was imperfect in some ways, the underlying understanding that everyone was entitled to fundamental rights including economic and social rights was ahead of its time for this country – and sadly still is. At the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt ensured the integration of this vision into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, which proclaims that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families including medical care and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness and other circumstances beyond their control.

More than seventy years later, the year 2020 highlights the failure of our country to live up to this vision. COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic discrimination in our health care system, as well as the deeper inequality that has made Black and Latino Americans more vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Asian Americans have been targeted by hate speech and acts of violence. And in the midst of a catastrophic public health crisis, the deadly use of force against Black citizens by police has finally sparked an explosion of rage that has mobilized thousands and thousands of Americans across the country taking to the streets to demand immediate and fundamental change.

In their essays, Anthony P. Browne, Lazaro Lima, Roseanne Flores, Vivian Louie, and Anahi Viladrich go to the root cause of our current crisis – structuralized racism. They discuss racialized blaming, the experience of Latin and Asian Americans being treated as “forever foreigners,” the multiple traumas inflicted on those suffering from inequalities, and the need for better disaggregated data. Anthony P. Browne cites the “fierce urgency of now,” Martin Luther King’s call for immediate action. King warned us “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” We hope these essays will contribute to a deeper understanding of the current crisis and the steps we need to take – starting with education both individually and collectively – to move forward towards a future that does justice to the premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of a society that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Jessica Neuwirth
Rita E. Hauser Director
Human Rights Program