By Elena Marks, CEO, Episcopal Health Foundation & Bishop C. Andrew Doyle, Episcopal Diocese of Texas
On March 14, Bawi Cung, an immigrant from Burma, and his family went to a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas. Like many of us, I am sure he was thinking about the things he and his family would need as the threat of COVID-19 continued to spread and the calls grew louder to prepare for lengthy stay-at-home orders across the country. What was probably furthest from his mind was what happened next. A man approached the family and stabbed three of the family members, an act fueled by the growing anti-Asian rhetoric related to COVID-19 that was also spreading across the country. This terrible incident sends a chilling message to the diverse Asian American communities, the fastest growing population over the past decade, and is part of a continued challenge this country faces with racism.
That such actions still occur in America may be difficult to process. As we also try to process an ever-changing reality during the unprecedented time of COVID-19, many of us are further alarmed at the real time information about how the virus is affecting certain populations. A recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that African Americans, while 13% of the population, make up 30% of COVID-19 patients. Further, another recent study shows that Latinos are being infected at a rate of two to three times the rate of white people. And, we are seeing disturbing instances, like the one above, of racially driven attacks on Asian Americans steadily increasing. In fact, a recent analysis found that Texas now ranks third in the most instances of such attacks across the country. These facts are indeed alarming, but the reality is, factors like racism and health inequities, as Social Determinants of Health, have always impacted communities of color. COVID-19 is only proving what has been there all along.
What COVID-19 is showing us is that people of color, because of economic, employment, and other life circumstances, are less able to take protective measures such as social distancing and being able to work from home. It is further showing us that many people of color, particularly African Americans continue to receive inadequate medical care compared to white Americans. Not to be outdone, racial violence, and the threat of it, continues to harm many communities of color just like what is happening today against Asian Americans. We need to be diligent in addressing racism at every opportunity.
We live in a complex society where diversity of lived experience should be respected and celebrated and not result in poorer health outcomes and increased vulnerability to hate. Currently, our greatest common threat is COVID-19, but racism further adds to this threat. Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF) and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas understand that many of our communities continue to suffer from the harm of racism. Until we address both the explicit and implicit racism that affects our society, true healing cannot occur and its impact on health cannot be reduced. Like many of the Episcopal churches partnering with EHF to work towards racial reconciliation can attest, this work is not easy but we can no longer afford to ignore the imperative to do it.