How racism and poverty made Detroit a new coronavirus hot spot

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By: Yanyoua Xiong

A report found in March, from the Pew Research Center, said that nearly 50% of black people, compared to 20% of white people, see coronavirus as a major threat to their health. Detroit has one of the largest African American populations in the country with 79% of the population African American. Even though African Americans make up only 14% of the population in Michigan, they make up around 40% of the deaths that occurred in that state.

Black people, of all ages, die in disproportionately higher numbers than white people in Detroit, due to asthma, heart disease, and other chronic lung disorders. Fabiola Cineas says the reasoning is because “hundreds of years of slavery, racism, and discrimination have compounded to deliver poor health and economic outcomes for black people.” 

Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, commented on the difference in treatment of people of color and non people of color, “From basic lack of access to health care, transportation, and protections in the workplace, these inequities hit people of color and vulnerable communities the hardest. This task force will help us start addressing these disparities right now as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.” 

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Detroit was mostly white but we can start to see a shift in demographics with suburbanization and “white flight.” For some reason though, that didn’t decrease redlining and black people are still more likely than whites to be denied a loan today. 

However, it’s not just in Detroit but across the United States where inequalities between skin colors lead to experiencing higher numbers of COVID-19 cases. The death rates from COVID-19 are also disproportionate (by race) in places like Milwaukee, Georgia, and New York City.

Evidence of disadvantage is everywhere in Detroit: there are dozens of food banks, empty homes, and thousands of water shutoffs due to people being unable to pay their water bills. Detroit has remained one of the most segregated cities in the country despite being in a pandemic and it really shows.

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