Systemic structural racism to blame for COVID-19’s uneven toll on African Americans, UB expert says

Release Date: May 11, 2020

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Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., head shot.
“COVID-19 has snatched the covers off of color-blind racism, the inclusive rhetoric, along with notions of the declining significance of race to reveal the racist fault lines in the systems and structure of U.S. society. ”
Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies
University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning

BUFFALO, N.Y. – In the United States, COVID-19 is disproportionately causing more hospitalizations and deaths of African Americans over any other race. To many people, the pandemic has been an eye-opener about health disparities in minority communities.

But to our elected officials, policymakers and other leaders, this should be no surprise, says Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., PhD, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.

An expert on urban development and social, economic and racial justice, Taylor says the vulnerability of minority communities to the virus has been ignored, overlooked and dismissed by the White House, elected officials, physicians, public health experts and others.

Public officials are ignoring 35 years of research

“The White House, elected officials, physicians and public health experts must have known that COVID-19 would hunt and kill African Americans in disproportionate numbers. How could they not?” Taylor says. “Thirty-five years ago, in 1985 the landmark study, ‘Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health’ documented the existence of significant race-based health inequities. It concluded that such health disparities are ‘an affront to both our ideals and to the ongoing genius of American Medicine.’”

“Thirty-five years of research, then, have chronicled the different rates of chronic illness among African Americans, including lung disease, asthma, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, along with the thousands of blacks with immune systems compromised by HIV,” he says. “These chronic illnesses are comorbidities associated with COVID-19. Meanwhile, research on the social determinants of health shows that living in underdeveloped neighborhoods and residing in dilapidated, unaffordable houses produce toxic stressors, which spawn undesirable health outcomes. African Americans and people of color mostly and often populate these neighborhoods. In every city in the United States, you can find these undesirable spaces.”

“Yet, this knowledge was never translated into action, down on the ground, in black communities to blunt the devastation.”

Systemic structural racism

“Pundits might need to educate the public about the issues, but it is old news to elected officials, policymakers, urban planners and public health officials. The failure of the Trump administration and leadership at every level of government to forestall the COVID-19 assault on black America did not result solely from malfeasance or ignorance. But, it came from the reality of our nation’s systemic structural racism. Thus, when COVID-19 attacked the United States, the Trump administration disregarded blacks, while rushing to construct a safety net for white business elites at the top of the human value ladder.”

Exposing the issues and problems

“COVID-19 has snatched the covers off of color-blind racism, the inclusive rhetoric, along with notions of the declining significance of race to reveal the racist fault lines in the systems and structure of U.S. society. Across the nation, voices of outrage are being raised in opposition to the black devastation wrought by COVID-19. Health practitioners, elected officials, community activists and ordinary citizens are demanding action. This call is about more than reducing the impact of COVID-19 on blacks. It also requires fundamentally transforming the neighborhoods in which they live, and eliminating social determinants as the prime producer of undesirable health outcomes in black life. It demands that urban planners, along with the American people, imagine another, very different, but a possible city, a place anchored by racial, economic and social justice.”

Available for interviews:

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. can discuss the differential impact COVID-19 is having on African Americans, the black community and low-income urban groups, especially people living in poverty. This framework includes issues of unemployment, housing and access to medical treatment. He is a UB professor of urban and regional planning, director of the UB Center for Urban Studies, an associate director of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, and a member of the African American Health Equity Task Force in Buffalo.

Media Contact Information

Douglas Sitler
Associate Director of National/International Media Relations
Faculty Experts

Tel: 716-645-9069
drsitler@buffalo.edu