Just in case the need for race*-based stats is a new conversation to you, it’s not just about COVI-19. COVID-19 is just the latest reason to beat the drum.
Laurie Townshend (filmmaker, photographer and teacher) has a gripping installation up as part of Toronto’s Scotiabank Contact photography festival that dives into this. You can view it here.
So, let’s talk about race-based data, COVID-19, and why it’s important.
We have heard that COVID-19 is disproportionally affecting Black Americans. It’s reasonable to assume it’s doing the same here. The challenge is that we don’t have adequate (and often any) stats in Canada. Why, is a mystery to many. Ontario just announced last week that race-based data will be collected as part of the COVID-19 strategy moving forward.
Data is necessary to understand what is going on and crafting solid plans. And, the analysis of that data is just as important (maybe moreso) in helping to make a difference.
While data shows us that Black Americans are more impacted by COVID-19, what those numbers don’t show is why. We have to dig into context for that. Without it, those numbers can be used against communities and to inflame discrimination, inequity and create further disparities.
Context is Everything
Let’s consider what it means to be Black in the USA (and Canada).
First there is history. Black people are one of the historically disadvantaged groups. This means the possibility of wealth creation within families has been undermined due to laws, policies, practices – and in this case, systemic racism.
The impact of racism starts young. It negatively impacts teacher expectations, chances of graduation, self-esteem, the likelihood of post-secondary education, and type of employment (among other things). Which means we can draw a line between skin colour and the likelihood of poverty because of racism. The systemic impact of racism extends to laws, policies, neighbourhood planning, access to money, networks and opportunity.
Socio economic status aside, the impact of racism are still felt in job searches, interviews, in the workplace, and in the chances for promotion and representation among leadership.
Race, COVID and the Social Determinants of Health
But back to COVID-19:
In addition to the above, racism has health consequences because the value placed on skin colour impacts our networks, environment, socio economic status and how we are perceived and received by health systems. These are some of the social determinants of health.
When we examine the link between racism and poverty, we also have to consider the impact of poverty on access to food, healthy food, adequate sleep, emotional support, and exercise. All of which impact health. In addition to all of this, racism causes stress. Stress reaps all manner of havoc in the body, and impacts health.
So when we examine the COVID-19 data and see that Black people are disproportionately affected, we can’t talk about that without talking about why – and why, at it’s core, is about systemic racism.
Race-Based Data is Critical
Race-based data is important. Crucial even. It helps us understand what is happening and who is affected. Critical analysis will help us to understand why.
And that critical analysis will then help us to improve how we do things, how we treat people, the programs and policies we create. It will also help us to consider more effective ways to prevent these disparities in the future.
(c) Annemarie Shrouder 2020
*Race has an asterisk because it’s not real. You can read more about this here – and stay tuned for the e-course Randy and I are creating.