November 30, 2022

Facing South

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated racial inequality in the United States. COVID-19 has killed over one million people to date nationwide, but it did not affect all communities equally. Native American people died from COVID at 2.1 times the rate of white people, while Hispanic people were 1.8 times and Black people 1.7 times more likely than whites to die, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though a Washington Post analysis found that COVID mortality rates for white Americans surpassed that of their Black and Latino counterparts last fall, the heavy toll of the early pandemic on communities of color came with not only the everyday burdens of systemic racism but new forms of it that arise in a public health crisis.

For instance, people of color were overrepresented in frontline industries as “essential workers” who did not have the privilege of working remotely, thus putting them and their loved ones at risk of contracting a deadly virus in order to simply survive. Meanwhile, Asian Americans faced an onslaught of harassment and violence throughout the pandemic, the result of a racist narrative promoted by former President Donald Trump that blamed the spread of COVID-19 on China. 

A new book edited by scholars at Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Racial Equity examines how this country’s foundational racial inequality was worsened by the pandemic, while offering policy solutions to lessen the disparities. Titled “The Pandemic Divide: How COVID Increased Inequality in America,” it was co-edited by the center’s director, Duke public policy professor William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr.; research scientist Gwendolyn Wright; and research associate Lucas Hubbard.

The book includes chapters by leading scholars looking at COVID in relationship to topics such as Black American labor history, housing market inequality, and educational access. Darity, an economist, is among the foremost scholars of reparations for slavery, and not surprisingly reparations are among the policy solutions discussed in the book.

Facing South recently caught up with Darity to talk more about reparations in post-COVID America. This interview has been edited for clarity.