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Coronavirus Hits Black & Hispanic Children

By Shlomo Maital

   “It is what it is”. That statement by President Trump, about America’s massive death toll from COVID-19, [160,000 persons so far and rising by 1,000 or more a day, every day since April 1] raised the blood pressure of a lot of people. So did his blatantly false statement that children are “totally immune”, modified to “virtually immune”. 

     But what was truly upsetting was not Trump’s lies, but medical facts, reported in the journal Pediatrics, and described in a CNN report. Black children, Hispanic children, poor children – all suffer far far more from the virus than others.   The virus has swept over society like a tsunami, but it has hit hardest the racial and income groups who always get hit hardest by everything. It is unfair, immoral, unacceptable. Black lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Children’s lives matter. ALL lives matter. And no, it is NOT what it is.   What it is, is – White House officials and the President are tested daily, and get the results within hours. For the rest of America – the wait can be many days. The inequality starts right at the very top.  So does the moral rot.

     Here is a summary of the report in Pediatrics:

* Coronavirus infection rates in the United States are significantly higher among children of minority race and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, according to a new study

* The study examined 1,000 child patients tested between March 21 and April 28 in Washington DC. Only 7.3% of White children tested positive for coronavirus, in contrast to 30% of Black children and 46.4% of Hispanic children, the study found.

* Three times as many Black children reported known exposure to the virus as White children, the researchers reported.

* The test site collected basic demographic information for all patients; the research team then used survey data to estimate family income based on home addresses.

Of the 1,000 people tested, 207 were positive for coronavirus. About 9.7% of those in the highest income quartile were infected, while 37.7% in the lowest quartile tested positive, the team found.

* Of the patients tested, about one third were Black and about a quarter were Hispanic. The team found that the inequities existed even after they adjusted for age, sex and median family income.

   The data speak for themselves. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, lower-income groups, all suffer disproportionately. Why? They have to go to jobs with little social distancing, just to survive, and they have far poorer medical care and far less access to quality care.

     I hope we will NOT go back to the good old days. They weren’t so good. A great many things need fixing, and the virus has swept away the topsoil and revealed all the rot beneath.  Any society that accepts “it is what it is”, among children of color, is unworthy.  And its leaders are criminals.

Roots of US Racism:   Read The Warmth of Other Suns

By Shlomo Maital

     Every story has a ‘back story’ – background that is essential for our understanding. The current Black Lives Matter protests have a very long and old back story. It is found in the wonderful book by Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: the epic story of America’s great migration, by African-Americans, from the South to the cities of the North.  This migration is in large part the back story of Black Lives Matter. 

    I heard about the book in a favorite NPR podcast, On Being, when Krista Tippett, podcast founder, interviewed author Isabel Wilkerson, in 2016. Here is an excerpt from this interview. It is very long. To save you time: African-Americans migrated from the South, after they were ‘liberated’, freed as slaves, to save their lives, literally, but found they were enslaved again, as sources of cheap exploitable labor, in the factories of the North, where the racism was if anything more fierce and more hypocritical.    Warning: This blog is 1200 words, double the usual length.

Wilkerson: citing a source: “He wrote, “I was leaving the South to fling myself into the unknown… I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps — just perhaps — to bloom.”

Tippett: “You’ve said that the language of “political asylum” is absolutely apt here for what people were undertaking. And it’s just not — as much as we know a lot of these stories and a lot of the things that were wrong, that feels like a new recognition.”

Wilkerson:   “It does. I think that because it happened within the borders of our own country, we don’t think about it as — first of all, it was a kind of immigration. Although, these were — this was the only group of Americans who had to act like immigrants in order to be recognized as citizens. They were forced to seek political asylum within the borders of their own country because they were living in a caste system in the South that did not recognize their citizenship. And some of them travelled farther than current day immigrants might, but that was really not the point. The point was that the country actually was kind of two countries in one, and that’s what they had to do.

   “I often say that the book is viewed as being a book about the Great Migration, and over time, as I’ve talked about it over these years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about migration. The Great Migration is not about migration, and really, probably no migration is about migration. It’s about freedom and how far people are willing to go to achieve it. This is the means that they feel they must take in order to find freedom wherever they can find it.

Tippett:   “Yeah. And this book is such a — it embodies this paradox that writers know, that storytellers know, that radio actually knows, that the more particular you can get with your story, the more universally it can be received, that others can join their life and their imagination with what you have to share. And there were these moments for me in the book that were just so human, that were so relatable, that made all these other horrors come home.

And so one of them for me was George Swanson Starling. You asked him what he hoped for in leaving, and he said, “I was hoping I would be able to live as a man and express myself in a manly way” — I’m getting chills — “without the fear of getting lynched at night.” And even the way it comes across — he didn’t say it — it doesn’t sound like he said it with a lot of bitterness or drama. It was just matter of fact.

Wilkerson:   “Not even that much emotion because it was — these were the facts of their lives. And at that time when they were growing up — and this time period was a very long time. I mean, it was the end of Reconstruction until the 1970s. It encompassed someone who was born in the 1880s and passed away in the ‘60s would’ve known nothing other than this. And so, these were the facts of their lives.

   “And he didn’t — he was not emotional. He wasn’t bitter. It was just a matter-of-fact statement of what it was that he was up against and why he felt he had no choice but to go. I ran into a lot of people who said they don’t think they would’ve lived if they had stayed. There was actually a tremendous amount of fear that a lot of parents in the South had for their children if they were extroverted and opinionated.

Tippett:   “If their children were?”

Wilkerson:   “Yeah, if they were spirited and expressive, there was a need to reign that in. I mean, in other words, childhood itself had to be controlled and repressed because it could mean their very lives. And so he grew up under that. And his father said, “If you’re going to continue doing this work, the things you’re doing, it’s best that you go.”

   “And one of the things that happened in this Great Migration is that it spread people all over this country. I mean, people — these places that they went, there had not been a significant African American population. So you look at the African American population of all of the cities in the North, Midwest, and West are a result of this. We’re seeing the manifestation of that, Seattle or Oakland or Los Angeles.

Tippett:   Detroit wasn’t Detroit.

Wilkerson:   “No, it wasn’t. None of these places were what they were at the time. And a lot of them are filled by people who felt they had no choice and that they would not have lived if they hadn’t gotten out.”

Tippett: “Something else, something that was disturbing about the dynamic is that, on the one hand, African Americans were being lured by the North as cheap labor. And the South, for the same reasons, was keeping people in. That’s shocking to me. I don’t know. I shouldn’t be shocked, but just …”

Wilkerson:   “Well, I think that a lot of this actually is not — it’s out there, but it’s not commonly known. And one of the things I hear most often when I go out talking about this book — or people write to me constantly, and it’s the same phrase over and over again, “I had no idea.” I hear it over and over again from people who actually were alive at the time that some of these things were going on. Part of it, is that a lot of the people just didn’t talk about it.

   “If you think about it on both sides of this caste system or this divide, there was not much incentive for anyone to talk about it. I mean, on the one side, people don’t want to really think about the awful things going on around them. And then those who were suffering from it and had escaped — they didn’t want to burden their children with it. It was like post-traumatic stress. They didn’t want to deal with it.”

Wealth Inequality: A Bleak Picture

By Shlomo Maital


   source: McKinsey Global

   Shocking episodes of police violence against African-Americans have again brought the ugly fact of racism in the United States to the fore.

   Underlying it, reflecting it, is the equally shocking chronic inequality of median family wealth between white and black. The graph above, from McKinsey, a global consulting company, shows that since 1992, the median white family has wealth from six to ten times greater than the median black family. The graph ends in 2016 – the wealth inequality has doubtless grown under Trump, because of the massive gift of wealth his tax cut gave, to already-wealthy whites.

   African-Americans are equally intelligent, equally hard-working (or more so), equally creative. So why can they not accumulate wealth?   Is it because they lack opportunities, in schooling, education, employment and political voice?   And why are they dying in large numbers, from COVID-19, well beyond their proportion (12-13%) in the population?

     The bitter irony between right-wing US cries of Make America Greater (was it ever, since the end of slavery?), and the terrible injustice of inequality, Make America Fairer, is registering, belatedly, on many Americans, as protests continue. Let’s hope enough of them remember this in 140 days exactly, on Tuesday November 3 – the presidential election.

Hidden Racism: Causes and Cures

By Shlomo Maital


   How do you measure racist attitudes? Certainly, not by asking people if they dislike blacks, Jews, Arabs, Muslims or gays. People mostly know there is social disapproval for such attitudes and answer according to the norm, rather than their own intrinsic belief.

   One approach is known as the IAT – implicit association test. How does it work? On an open website, people are asked to sort faces (black and white) according to descriptions pertaining to “good” and “bad”. The decision is taken quickly, without conscious thinking. It was developed by a social psychologist named Anthony Greenwald about 20 years ago.

   The implicit-association test (IAT) is a measure within social psychology designed to detect the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental representations of objects (concepts) in memory. …. the Race IAT shows that more than 70% of individuals have an implicit preference for Whites over Blacks. On the other hand, only half of Black individuals prefer Blacks over Whites.   Similarly, the Age IAT generally shows that most individuals have an implicit preference for young over old, regardless of the age of the person taking the IAT.

   The IAT is part of Harvard University Project Implicit, which investigates thoughts and feelings that are largely outside of active awareness or control.  The key point here is powerful: Racism and other forms of hatred and discrimination are based primarily not on conscious thought, as per white supremacists, but unconscious attitudes driven by the social milieu and context. Perhaps this is why racism remains endemic in most societies, long after laws have become more equal for all.

     If this is so – can such racism be overcome? Can an individual overcome it, if it is in the air we breathe?   The answer is, yes, given time. Decisions taken rapidly, are driven by the limbic brain. Decisions taken thoughtfully are driven by a cognitive conscious process. Research shows, if police (as in Dever, Colorado) can take even a few seconds to think, consider, and judge, actions driven by subconscious racism can be corrected and made more equal.

     I myself am an example. I consider myself liberal, and try hard every day to respect every single person I encounter, whatever their race, religion, creed or age. Yet, recently, in a workshop I led for high school teachers, I had a participant who wore a hijab, a Muslim head covering worn by women.   “Salima” (pseudonym), I assumed instantly, would not contribute much to the Workshop. This was my subconscious speaking. That wrong racist first impression was corrected rapidly. It emerged that Salima was a Technion graduate in chemical engineering, and was the most brilliant of my Workshop participants. She contributed immensely.

     Most enlightened people strongly deny they have racist beliefs. Yet, we live in society, and society has racist beliefs. So it is hard for individuals to escape them, especially when they are ‘underground’, subterranean. The IAT tells us to be aware of the underground forces and to use our cognition to control and alter them.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital