Racism, Capitalism, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Public Health: Tracing the Connections to Inform Strategy


As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds at the same time as more people in the United States protest manifestations of systemic racism than at any time in the past, public health activists ask how they can respond to these threats to health and health equity.  One way is to explore more fully the connections between systemic racism, defined by NAACP President Derrick Johnson as systems and structures that disadvantage African Americans, and modern capitalism, the global economic and political system that seeks to maximize business profits and increase business control of our economy, society and government.  Two recent articles explore these connections. 

In Racial Capitalism: A Fundamental Cause of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Inequities in the United States,  Whitney Laster Pirtle writes that racial capitalism is a fundamental cause of the racial and socioeconomic inequities within the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  Using the overrepresentation of Black deaths due to COVID-19 in Detroit, Michigan as a case study, Pirtle  explains that racism and capitalism mutually construct harmful social conditions that fundamentally shape COVID-19 disease inequities via multiple pathways.  The article appears in Health Education and Behavior. 

Another article Racial Capitalism within Public Health: How Occupational Settings Drive COVID-19 Disparities by Elizabeth McClure and  colleagues focuses on the role of the workplace in facilitating racial/ethnic inequities in COVID-19 transmission.  The article in the American Journal of Epidemiology explores how employment practices and working conditions in several sectors including meat packing and agricultural workers, construction, health care, nursing home, and correctional facilities are highly patterned by race/ethnicity and immigrant status.  By analyzing how racial capitalism distributes occupational risks, the authors write, public health researchers can contribute to reducing  the disparate impact of working conditions on health.