To reflect on the racial pandemic of the past year is to reflect on the ravages of multiple viruses, all mutating from the original American virus: racism. People of color—already forced into the shadows of society—were infected, hospitalized, impoverished, and killed at the highest rates by COVID-19. All the while, they received the fewest medical and economic protections—prolonging, deepening, and spreading their suffering.
The groups of people who suffered the most from COVID-19 in the United States did so almost completely out of the view of data. We could barely see them. Dead before death. Tracking the spread of the coronavirus among the incarcerated, the undocumented, and the unhoused did not seem to matter, just as their lives did not seem to matter. The invisible in life becoming the invisible in death remained the American way.
By the end of last April, dozens of states had started reporting racial data that revealed COVID-19 was infecting and killing Black, Latino, and Native Americans at higher rates than white people. For roughly a year now, we have been aware of the pandemic’s racial disparities. We have been given a crash course on the distinction between equality and equity—on when we need equality, on where we need equity.
When it comes to human value, we need equality. Equality is valuing all phenotypes, ethnicities, and cultures equally, placing all groups on the same level. To create a world where every human group is valued equally is to create a world where every human is valued equally.
But when it comes to policy, we need equity. Not equality. Policy equality is providing the same to unequally resourced groups. Policy equity is allocating resources to unequally resourced groups based on need. As an example, providing middle-income people with the same resources as billionaires prolongs the inequality in resources. Providing middle-income people with more resources than billionaires reduces the inequality in resources. Policy equality only replicates and amplifies the inequality that is there from the start. Policy equity, on the other hand, repairs that inequality. [Continue reading…]