On the surface, COVID-19 may seem to be a great leveller. Princes and Prime Ministers, musicians and Hollywood A-listers, N.B.A. players, and other prominent people have made headlines for contracting the virus. But, looking more closely at the numbers of illnesses and fatalities, we see that the virus—far from an equalizer—exacerbates the inequality of the American health-care system. Minorities, and particularly African-Americans, account for a greatly disproportionate number of deaths in places around the country. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a contributor to The New Yorker and an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, describes to David Remnick the circumstances that give rise to this stratification. Even the basic preventative measures urged on Americans by the C.D.C. are less accessible in black communities. To shelter in place, she points out, “you need to have safe, sound, and comfortable housing . . . and only nineteen per cent of black people have the ability to work at home, because of the types of jobs that they are employed in. . . . African-Americans in New York City still must get on the subway to get to work.” Even access to clean water, she points out—essential to frequent hand washing—is not universally available.
[Originally published on April 13, 2020 via The New Yorker]