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  • Writer's pictureLeonard Harris

Hope or No Hope

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed, disproportionately, black Americans. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic kills, disproportionately, black Americans. Death by inflamed lungs in both cases. Will there be racial disparities in the next pandemic?

We want clearly defined solutions that will make the future better than the past. And we want solutions that make us feel comfortable, for example, universal health insurance, more government aid without more taxes or more kindness and less prejudice from government officials. Looking at the disparities between black Americans and white people too often recommends solutions that we have pursued in the past because of confirmation bias: We look at the disparities and blame the same causes (prejudice) and look for the same solutions we believed had some success in the past (benevolence from churches, altruism by individuals, aggressive government policy). These failed to end disparities yet we cling to them because they portend hope.

There are no simple solutions and no simple way to describe the moral wrongness of the disparity.

Imagine the following: That there is no universe where the pain and suffering from COVID-19 to individuals is repaired, compensated for recompensed. It is in this world that families and individuals experience the tragedy of necro-being -- living as if dead because suffering and loss are permanent. And desperately needed healthy and productive generations of black Americans do not exist because of undue death from COVID -19. There is no recovery of this loss generation or the progeny that they may have mothered or fathered. This happens in a non-moral universe. Our universe.

Historically white-owned industries make profit from disproportional death rates of black Americans: casket makers, casket sales, funeral homes, hurst renters, crematoriums, embalmment suppliers, and cemeteries. Death brings profit in a depressed economy to companies that service the African American dead – owned by members of the same population that benefits from the conditions that keep black Americans subordinate – disproportionate ownership, wealth, underemployment and a sense of inferiority that helps bolster white senses of entitlement and superiority.

There is no moral theory that justifies the loss caused by racial disparity and its role in perpetuation the conditions that perpetuate racial disparity and no more horrible condition than necro-tragedy - absolute and irreparable well-being and irredeemable loss.

The most plausible explanations have been very insightful: black Americans are more susceptible to COVID-19 because generations of inequality have resulted in their having underlying medical conditions: Diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immune deficiencies, prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications, severe obesity, chronic kidney disease, liver disease. These physical conditions are made worse by the social conditions of high-risk service employment and underemployment, densely populated living quarters in urban centers, misdiagnosed illnesses, poorly staff nursing homes, incarceration, illegal drug use and legal over-prescribed opioids.

These are solutions that do not come to mind when we look at the disparities: The wealth of mega-churches should be used by small black businesses especially in ethnic markets ( such as entertainment or Cadillac dealerships) and hospitals and clinics serving black communities; tax all churches and use the money to buy all lower income persons a house; provide all women with a stock account that will guarantee their income is the same as a man for like work; direct wealth transfer by the government such as giving government owned property to African American entrepreneurs; all self-identified black Americans in a given year should pay no taxes for their remaining days; transfer the ownership of companies that go bankrupt or taken over by the government because of fraud to minority owners; norm change among black Americans such as making men primary parents instead of assuming females are always the preferable parent unless otherwise established, change the structure of living quarters by separating apartments. Sounds radical but why do we not think of radical solutions?

Black Americans in Prince Georges County, Maryland, among the wealthiest counties of black Americans, black mayors of major cities such as Baltimore or Atlanta, nor African American governors or lieutenant generals, male, female, or transgender, impose radical solutions. The class divide is real. This is hidden when we lump black people together and compare them to white people, lumped together. When we look at this lumping, we fall prey to the aggregation fallacy. What is true of black people in general is not true of different classes of black people. We fail to see necro-being because we only see disparity and hope that it will dissipate with anticipated efforts similar to the past. That is why the solutions are always the same. We compare two groups and then favor solution that we already prefer. It is irrational to do the same things and expect different results.

Terms like disparity, overrepresentation or disproportion, used to describe the different death and infection rates, are aggregate terms – they tell us the result of comparing two groups - it does not help tell us who needlessly died. They are a part of the numbers creating the ‘disparity’. There is no way to talk about individual suffering once we start talking about ‘disparity’. The unnecessary dead from the 1918 influenza pandemic and those from the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic are unknown because individual suffering is not something we are likely to discuss once we have them disappear in the term ‘disparity’ In Wisconsin, perhaps the state with the most extreme ratio of black morbidity, black people represent 6 percent of the population and 40 percent of the deaths. Those African American deaths have occurred at a rate 700 percent higher than black people's share of the state's population. In our home state of North Carolina, black people account for 22 percent of the population but close to 40 percent of the deaths. [1]

There is a sizable racial disparity between the death and infection rates of black Americans and whites from COVID-19. “Time and again, black Americans are overrepresented among the infected [slavery and racism] and dead. America’s newest infection seems to be mating with America’s original infection, reproducing not life, but death.” ([2] Ibram X. Kendi , Atlantic Monthly, April 6, 2020) The Center for Disease Control (CDC) tell us that persons with underlying medical conditions, regardless of age or race, are at a higher risk for critical illness or death if they catch COVID-19.

New York, a cosmopolitan cultural state, has radical racial disparities from COVID-19. As of April 3, African Americans made up almost half of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black.

Black people make up 12% of Michigan's population. But of the state’s 417 coronavirus deaths, 40% are Black, 26% are white, 30% are unknown, and 4% are mixed race or other, according to data released Thursday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). [3]

African Americans make up 14.6 percent of the state population, but 28 percent of confirmed cases of the coronavirus. [4]

According to the National Medical Association black patients are more likely than white patients to have diabetes. The risk of diabetes is 77% higher among [Black] Americans than among non-Hispanic white Americans.

The next pandemic will cause the same racial disparities as CODIV-19 without radical change. The same solutions we have used will not cause new results. No change. No hope.

COVID-19 is an indiscriminate killer. Class and race makes COVID-19 an efficient agent of necro-tragedy.



1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention

2. Ibram X. Kendi , Atlantic Monthly, April 6,2020, What the Racial Data Show

The pandemic seems to be hitting people of color the hardest.

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