On May 14, the House passed a resolution condemning racism which has come out of the Covid pandemic. The resolution draftees claim Covid-19 is a public health emergency which has worsened and exposed the racism emergency.
It cherry picks data claiming “Black residents comprise just over 1% of Vermont’s population, they account for approximately 4.8% of the total confirmed (Covid) cases” in Vermont. The resolution continues, “black people in the United States have been nearly three times as likely to die” than white Americans from Covid-19 in the US.
The number of black Vermonters who have died from Covid is conspicuously absent from the assessment. Blacks make up 1.4% of Vermonters and 0.8% of all Vermont Covid deaths (2 total). 94.2% of Vermont is white, but white Vermonters make up 96.1% of Covid deaths, according to the Health Department’s Covid-19 dashboard. Yes, black Vermonters are more likely to contract Covid, but nearly half as likely as whites to die from Covid if they do.
So allow me to throw out some possibilities explaining these two opposing dual trends. Brookings says the white American median age is 44 versus 35 for blacks. Perhaps younger blacks felt safer in interacting with possible Covid-infected individuals because they are confident that their young immune systems could handle it, and caught Covid more frequently. Perhaps blacks were forced to work in 2020 because they had fewer social supports for lost income. Or perhaps they didn’t want to waste their peak-earning years, which older white Vermonters had already worked pre-2020. Perhaps they received better healthcare when they did contract Covid because white Vermont doctors and nurses see far fewer black patients and are less likely to mix up patients and treatments. Perhaps blacks are less likely to die of Covid because they are younger. Many of these are plausible, but comparing one group of people to another group of people of different ages has always been difficult.
We should celebrate the vast improvements America has made in combating overt racism in the past 70 years, to the extent that we can now debate the question of how much subconscious racism affects the decisions we make. We should also be careful about insisting that “subconscious racism must exist in huge amounts” or “subconscious racism must not exist at all.” Proving either beyond the shadow of a doubt would be impossible. So with humility, let us move forward.
The author is an associate at the Ethan Allen Institute.