Blackness Is Not a Health Risk Factor in the U.S. Anti-Blackness Is. | Sojourners

Blackness Is Not a Health Risk Factor in the U.S. Anti-Blackness Is.

"Presenting race as a risk factor is erroneous, cultivates bias, and can be harmful to patients."
Illustration by Michael George Haddad

PRESIDENT TRUMP “DISCOVERED” this spring that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. “Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” he asked during a live coronavirus task force briefing in April. Black social media erupted.

One friend wrote, “The white man said it, but we have been screaming this for years.” Another person posted, “Blackness is not a risk factor. Anti-blackness is the comorbidity.”

I began to seriously consider the impact of race on health while becoming a registered nurse. Combating health disparities in the black community eventually brought me to midwifery. As a health care provider, the language of “comorbidity” (two or more chronic health conditions) and “modifiable health risk” (a risk factor for illness that can be lowered by taking an action) has become part of my vocabulary.

Following Trump’s question at the press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responded, “When you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus ... they are just those very comorbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African American population.” A few days later, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams noted that minorities are not more predisposed to infection “biologically or genetically,” but rather they are “socially predisposed” to it.

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