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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLACampus Safety

In My Words: Pandemic presents a chance to address continued disparities in health care

By Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla

Aug. 10, 2020 7:19 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic and national demonstrations against the deaths of Black Americans have shed light on the brutal manifestations of systemic racism. Across humanity’s collective history, stories have elevated marginalized voices and breathed life into once broken structures. Through “In My Words,” community members and Daily Bruin staffers share their own experiences with racial identities and perspectives on the current state of race at UCLA and across the nation. If you have a story or an opinion you would like to share, complete this interest form.

(Emily Dembinski/Illustrations Director)
(Emily Dembinski/Illustrations director)

For years, marginalized communities have experienced systemic racism in all facets of society.

And with the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has become the year our nation must reckon with the social ills rotting our entrenched institutions.

Millions in the United States have been infected and thousands have died. Though the coronavirus does not discriminate, the health care system in the United States does. Black Americans and American Indians are almost five times more likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19. It therefore comes as little surprise that Black and Latino residents in metropolitan areas are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white residents.

In California alone, Filipinos alone have a 40% mortality rate.

The U.S. health care system has abandoned communities of color. These disparities are the culmination of years of systemic abuse. It starts at the very top, and the current administration has only exacerbated these inequities.

Make no mistake: Our nation’s leadership has deeply failed us all.

In today’s America, those with better health outcomes are often white and can afford health insurance. The American Community Survey shows that people of color are more likely to work in front-line industries. Additionally, people of color are more likely to grow up in communities with higher rates of poverty and to lack access to quality health care. They are also more often uninsured and thus, have a decreased likelihood of being treated for COVID-19.

Inequality paired with institutional negligence has concocted a recipe for disaster in which communities of color are forced to accept hate as part of their everyday lives.

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other innocent Black Americans have commenced a long overdue national dialogue about race. This year, the despicable disease of racism has forced everyday Americans to confront the ways they are complicit in furthering systemic racism and, more importantly, what they can do to reach a more just and equal society.

America is finally experiencing a rude awakening. And now more than ever, it must recognize its horrendous sins against Black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx folks and other marginalized communities. If left untreated, the pandemic of hate can lead to continued suffering in minority communities.

Political rhetoric from the highest elected officials of our land have called this virus the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu.” Politicians, who many look to for guidance, use choice words that have profound consequences. It’s clear that our words have power and how we interact with each other matters.

It is no accident that reports of hate crimes have gone up since the beginning of the pandemic. Hate spewed by the White House and other offices of power have only emboldened fear-mongering individuals. In California alone, more than 800 hate crimes have been reported by Asian Americans in the last few months.

The relentless campaign of hateful words spewed and violent acts waged against people of color has gone on for far too long. Racism can be just as deadly and undetectable as the virus. Hidden beneath a facade of ignorance, it manifests in subtle yet deadly microaggressions.

This nation has reached an inflection point. We must decide if we will continue to inflame existing disparities or work toward social and health equity.

There are myriad ways to support the movement for racial justice. But real change begins at the individual level. Difficult conversations are the antidote to ignorance. Participation in federal elections is incredibly important but it is equally – if not more – crucial to enact change at the local and state level.

To dismantle systemic racism in health care, we must be prepared to take drastic actions. In addressing concerns over the disproportionate deaths in communities of color, a recent UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative report suggests this starts with providing access to quality health care to historically marginalized communities. We must increase testing, increase funding to provide free masks, provide paid sick leave for front-line workers, expand telehealth access and insure low-income and marginalized communities.

If we do not begin to address these inequities, we will continue to see the gap widen between the haves and the have-nots.

As the saying goes, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Our greatness is not measured in how much we tear each other down; the true power of America is its promise of opportunity to all regardless of background. The movement to reach this more perfect union will not end until each and every one of us can promise a more equal society.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought incredible despair. However, it has also presented us with the opportunity to reflect on the current state of our society.

We look forward to the future where we, as a human race, can come back stronger, more unified and more determined to challenge the status quo. Only then can we begin to heal the wounded soul of our country.

Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla is a fourth-year Asian American Studies student.

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