It has been almost a full year of living through this devastating pandemic. I miss my family so much. I am exhausted from staring at this computer screen. I am also incredibly grateful to be healthy and able to work from home. Luck had nothing to do with it. Rather, it is explicitly by design that I, a white, educated, upper-middle-class person, still have safety and security while Black and brown people in my community and across the country are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.
The system that has allowed this to happen is white supremacy. It’s the same system at the root of the violent attacks at the Capitol last month and the same system that has created the health inequities that have always existed and have been deeply exposed because of COVID. For 400 years, our society has been very intentionally set up to maintain this reality.
One of the frameworks that we use in our trainings and is very common to show how racism operates is called the Four I’s of Oppression. Using COVID as an example, we can see that white supremacy is a part of everything: the laws and policies that govern our lives, the people and organizations we interact with, and the ways we think about ourselves and each other.
Ideological: What is the central idea behind racism? The overarching belief that upholds racism and has been central to the “American” story is that white people are better than people of color: that’s white supremacy. If we think about COVID more specifically, the idea is that white people are more deserving of safety, health, protection, and access to resources to make it through this pandemic than people of color. To be clear, we are absolutely not. This sometimes conscious and sometimes unconscious idea is everywhere.
Institutional: How have our laws, policies, and institutions upheld this idea? A few examples include:
- Leaving immigrants out of federal COVID relief while giving it to people like me who are still employed, making more than a living wage
- In Colorado’s own vaccine distribution plan, the governor deprioritized people who are currently incarcerated or in immigration detention, even though these disproportionately Black and brown populations are far more at risk of contracting COVID than those of us who do not live in such crowded and inhumane conditions
- Health insurance in the US is tied to employment, white people are more likely to work in full-time jobs that provide health coverage, and having health insurance improves access to health care and to health outcomes
- As education has moved online and students have to access school from home with both the internet and required technology, white families are more likely to have both of those than families of color
- The list goes on and on and includes policies and practices around housing, food security, and more
Interpersonal: How have interactions between white people and people of color upheld racism in the pandemic? Racial discrimination by white providers against patients of color in health care is well-known and well-documented. COVID is no exception. This also means that white people are more likely to receive better care and treatment if we do require medical attention for COVID or anything else. There has also been a sharp rise in anti-Asian racism since the virus arrived in the US.
Internalized: How do these beliefs get internalized? Now that we have a vaccine, I have heard multiple stories from health care providers about white people who have either fudged their occupation to get their vaccine early or have driven hours to try to get a vaccine appointment in another community. This shows how white people have internalized their superiority and are willing to cut in line without thinking about the impact this may have on others.
These aspects of racism operate together as a system and reinforce one another. Even this early in vaccine distribution, the data is clear that white people are more likely to have already received the vaccine even though we are less likely to be exposed to or die from COVID than communities of color.
If you are white, how does it feel to read this? What are you doing inside yourself, your life, and your work to change the status quo that unjustly lifts us up? If you got a stimulus check and do not need it to support yourself, please redistribute it to someone who does: contribute to your local mutual aid network or our immigrant relief fund. My colleagues, brilliant and passionate women of color, are leading this and all our other essential work alongside our grassroots leaders to fight for their lives and their communities. Black, Indigenous, and people of color have been resisting and working for equity for as long as racism has existed; white people, we urgently need to do much more to dismantle white supremacy, and I challenge you to join me in that. Today.