This post is written by Mariam Abood, a Master’s Student at the University of York. Mariam is the Content Manager for Scientistt; a research platform that seeks to make the world of research more transparent, efficient and effective. She chose to write this blog post to share the reasons why so many BAME people are disproportionately dying from COVID-19; a virus that is supposed to be neutral. You can find out more about Mariam on her Twitter and Instagram.
Like lots of us, I began the year with big hopes and expectations. The start of a new decade signalled a fresh start, new adventures, and goals to be met. The reality, I think you’ll agree, is that 2020 has been one of the worst years in recent memory.
This year has seen a deadly pandemic sweep the globe, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The coronavirus pandemic is covered by news outlets 24/7, but what is rarely discussed is the impact that the virus has had on BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities.
It is now an undisputed fact that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by coronavirus. Despite only making up 12% of the population, a recent report from Public Health England has shown BAME communities are twice as likely to suffer from coronavirus. Another statistic showed that 33% of patients in intensive care units were BAME.
As a woman of colour, this statistic had a profound impact
on my mental wellbeing. I experienced anguish at the losses of these BAME
lives, and frustration at the lack of media coverage that these deaths seemed
What irritated me in particular were the racist tropes that seemed to accompany the investigations into why BAME communities have been hit so hard by this virus.
Racism is undoubtedly a contributing factor in why this pandemic has hit our communities so harshly and why we suffer so much from the virus. Studies have shown that individuals experiencing racism have greater rates of illnesses, but this is not a phenomena that occurs at the individual level. Racism is multi-dimensional, multi-layered, and embedded in the structures and institutions that surround us.
Structural racism underpins social inequality in our society BAME communities are overrepresented in the working-class demographic, and we experience poverty more than any other marginalised group. As an Arab I have strong ties within my ethnic heritage, and I have seen first-hand how poverty stifles the opportunities, excitement and hope of the people that live around me. When I was younger I had a close friend that always used to remark that we had so much food in our household. At the time I didn’t understand what they meant; as a child I was lucky enough to have no knowledge of food poverty.
Food poverty is not the only issue we face. The housing that we live in, the very homes where we build our lives, have contributed to our deaths from COVID-19. Again, as a result of social inequality and widespread poverty, BAME communities are more likely to live in overcrowded housing. This means we are more susceptible to spreading the virus within our own family circles as well as the wider community networks that surround us.
A certain sector of the British electorate would have you believe that the cramped conditions of our housing are due to a lack of assimilation and integration within society. They would tell you that we tend to inhabit ghettoised areas that are hostile to anyone from outside our communities. This is not the case. In reality the systematic prejudice within the housing sector means that we have been forced into under-funded pockets of the country, to live in inadequate housing, and we’ve connected with other people in similarly difficult situations.
Yes, the social interactions that come with living in a close-knit community exacerbate the likelihood of spreading coronavirus from person to person, but it the is everyday micro-aggressions against BAME communities which have forced this situation upon us. I have experienced these microaggressions – having racist and colourist slurs shouted at me when walking down the street, and being turned down for a job because I have a ‘Muslim-sounding’ name.
Structural racism doesn’t just impact where we live, it also riddles the medical field. BAME people, specifically people from Black communities, are less likely to be taken seriously by medical professionals. There is an overwhelming volume of evidence that backs this up:
- Studies have shown that Black women’s pain is often delegitimised.
- Studies from social psychology show that over time, stereotypes and biases become invisible to those who rely upon them.
- It takes medical professionals longer to diagnose Black patients than white patients, which ultimately affects how they recover (or not) from illnesses and diseases like COVID-19.
- Studies have shown that stressors like time pressures and stress that doctors are under, increase the likelihood of an implicit racialised bias within the medical field.
I hope what I’ve told you, shocks you. I hope that you are
outraged and feel compelled to look for a solution, because I don’t have one
for you. Coronavirus has shone a bright light on the inequalities that we have
known about for years, and currently the media is doing nothing but reinforce
stereotypes and inaccuracies about our people, our cultures, and our
Representation within the media is key to memorialising the lives of BAME communities, and to sharing our stories with the world. When done right, the media can contribute to limiting the spread of coronavirus (seriously, how many times have we been told to wash our hands now?), but it is only when we dismantle racist structures within society that we will see a fall in coronavirus-related deaths within our BAME communities.