Dying Without Dignity: An Intersectional Analysis of Lhamo’s Death and Domestic Violence in China

by Sophia Garbarino, December 22, 2020

“More than 900 women have died at the hands of their husbands or partners since China’s law against domestic violence was enacted in 2016”

(CHEN, 2020).

Lhamo, a Tibetan woman and popular social media star living in southwestern China, was one of them. Two weeks after her ex-husband set her on fire, Ms. Lhamo died in the hospital, leaving her two sons and a rekindled wave of women’s rights protests behind. Her story, according to The New York Times reporter Elsie Chen (2020), reflects the Chinese government and law enforcement’s inability, and perhaps lack of desire, to protect its women. However, there are several underlying factors influencing feminist politics in China that went unaddressed in Chen’s report, along with the few other news reports covering the same story. Ms. Lhamo’s tragic death is also a product of brutal, complex relationships between ethnicity, sexuality, and socioeconomic status, revealing minimal progress towards equality and justice despite written law.

Ms. Lhamo’s family was well aware of her husband’s abuse, as she frequently fled her home with bruises and injuries over the course of their marriage. When she divorced him for the first time, he threatened to kill their children, forcing Ms. Lhamo to remarry him.

The local police further ignored her abuse complaints after this, allegedly telling her that because it was a “personal family matter… there was nothing they could do”

(Chen, 2020).

While it may seem like a feminist issue on the surface, the authorities’ ignorance actually reflects a much larger, deeper ethnic prejudice. As a Tibetan, Ms. Lhamo was a minority, and according to Human Rights Watch, her case “illustrate[s] the Chinese government’s long-running mistreatment of Tibetans,” stemming from tense relations after the failed Tibetan revolt against Chinese occupation in 1959 (2020). Since 2006, the government has forcibly relocated and created “near complete restriction on the freedom of movement” of over 2 million Tibetans (Minority Rights Group International, 2017). Even before any domestic abuse occurred, Ms. Lhamo was already a victim of injustice because of her national origin. However, Chen’s report does not mention this, reflecting a broader lack of attention to ethnic individualities within the global feminist context.

As Syracuse University professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes in Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003), “systems of racial, class, and gender domination do not have identical effects on women in Third World contexts” (p. 55). As such, a Tibetan woman such as Ms. Lhamo would not receive the same treatment as a Han Chinese woman would because of her ethnicity (the Han ethnic group is the largest in China). Furthermore, she had lower socioeconomic status, producing additional challenges. For poor minority women like Ms. Lhamo, human rights have “always been mediated by a coercive, racist state” (Mohanty, 2003, p. 54). According to Chen’s report,

“in the countryside, where Ms. Lhamo was from, victims often lack social support networks and are less educated about their rights”

(2020).

Even after “she sought help from All-China Women’s Federation, the government agency in charge of protecting women’s rights,” Ms. Lhamo was denied justice “when an official dismissed her injuries, saying other women were worse off” (Chen, 2020). This prompted her to file for divorce a second time, after which the police did bare minimal investigation and let her husband escape any consequences yet again.

Ms. Lhamo’s experiences and tragic death went unaddressed by the Chinese government, with the Communist body going as far as censoring social media hashtags like #LhamoAct (Chen, 2020). As Mohanty writes in Feminism Without Borders, “Chinese women ‘disappear’ in popular and academic discourses on China, only to reappear in ‘case studies’ or in the ‘culture garden’” (2003, p. 76). Ms. Lhamo is a clear example of this. Chinese feminist issues have gone largely unaddressed in Western media and academia, only resurfacing when case studies such as Ms. Lhamo’s occur. Western feminisms often fail to incorporate the “diverse struggles and histories” of women from other countries, more commonly lumping them together to further their own agendas (Mohanty, 2003, p. 46). Like Mohanty, professor Amrita Basu of Amherst College recognizes the necessity of diversity inclusion, arguing that when feminist discourses fail to identify and consider cultural influences on women’s experiences, particularly regarding gender violence, women’s “identities as Bosnian, African American, or poor women may be muted” (2000, p. 76). These are only a few examples of the several aspects that comprise one’s identity.

To make any progress towards true gender equality in China, the diverse population and cultures must be considered. This includes diversity in sexuality, which Chen also does not address in her report. Like the United States, China’s political and social structures are based on heterosexism and homophobia. As feminist scholar Audre Lorde writes, heterosexism is the “belief in the inherent superiority of one form of loving over all others and thereby the right to dominance” (1985, p. 3). Currently, China’s Domestic Violence Law “does not protect gay couples,” and though it does protect cohabitating couples, Chinese government official Guo Linmao noted at a press conference that

“for homosexuals in our country, we have not yet discovered this form of violence… it can be said that people who cohabit does not include homosexuals”

(Reuters Staff, 2015).

Essentially, he meant gay couples do not encounter domestic violence, which is untrue.

Chen’s report echoes this false assertion, though perhaps not intentionally, quoting Chinese women’s rights lawyer Wan Miaoyan, “But why does it take a tragedy and a victim to sacrifice herself in such a bloody way before we make progress on law enforcement?” (Chen, 2020). This statement assumes all domestic violence victims are women. However, according to the United States National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010), members of the LGBTQ+ community “have an equal or higher prevalence of experiencing IPV [intimate partner violence], SV [sexual violence], and stalking as compared to self-identified heterosexuals” (CDC, p. 1). China is certainly not exempt from this pattern. In fact, a 2009 survey conducted by the Chinese organization Common Language found that of the 900 participating lesbian and bisexual women, “42.2 percent reported intimate partner violence with same sex partners” (UNDP, 2014, p. 28). In every aspect of injustice, LGBTQ+ folks continue to fight for recognition and support, especially when the government refuses to protect them. As a member of the heterosexual hegemony, this is one battle that Ms. Lhamo did not have to fight, which some may consider a privilege despite her tragic situation.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, instances of domestic and intimate partner violence have significantly increased due to lockdown and quarantine policies. According to another domestic violence report from The New York Times (2020), Chinese “activists, citing interviews with abused women, estimate the numbers are far higher, especially after millions were placed under lockdown during the pandemic” (Wee). As Basu writes, “Women’s movement activists have employed the term violence against women in describing diverse practices cross nationally… in order to assert the global dimensions of a single problem” (2000, p. 78). Unfortunately, partner violence is not a single problem. It is stuck in a web of complex, intersectional relationships between sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, and more. However, despite the multitude of experiential and cultural differences, women like Ms. Lhamo still share many similarities and often unite on these common grounds. China’s women are not alone, and like every country around the world, China has a long road ahead to achieving gender justice.


References

Basu, A. (2000). Globalization of the local/localization of the global mapping transnational women’s movements. Meridians, 1(1), p. 68–84. https://doi.org/10.1215/15366936-1.1.68

CDC. (2010). NISVS: An overview of 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_victimization_final-a.pdf

Chen, E. (2020, November 15). Her abuse was a ‘family matter,’ until it went live. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/15/world/asia/china-women-domestic-abuse.html

China: Tibetan woman dies in custody. (2020, October 29). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/29/china-tibetan-woman-dies-custody#

Lorde, A. (1985). I am your sister: Black women organizing across sexualities. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Mohanty, C.T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Duke University Press.

Reuters Staff. (2015, December 27). China passes first domestic violence law, gay couples excluded. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-lawmaking-family/china-passes-first-domestic-violence-law-gay-couples-excluded-idINKBN0UA08A20151227

Tibetans. (2017, November). Minority Rights Group International. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://minorityrights.org/minorities/tibetans/

Two spirit. (2020). Indian Health Service. Retrieved December 7, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/lgbt/health/twospirit/

UNDP. (2014). Being LGBT in Asia: China country report. https://www.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/dam/rbap/docs/Research%20&%20Publications/hiv_aids/rbap-hhd-2014-blia-china-country-report.pdf

Wee, S. (2020, September 16). Her husband abused her. But getting a divorce was an ordeal. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/world/asia/china-domestic-abuse.html

Yang, H. (2020, April 1). China’s domestic violence law turns four. The Asia Foundation. https://asiafoundation.org/2020/04/01/chinas-domestic-violence-law-turns-four/

Check Your Bias: Why Women’s Studies Should Amend Its Relationship With Biology

by Marcela Muricy, November 30, 2020

Over the years, a gap has grown. As it has expanded, the women’s studies field has largely distanced itself from making connections to the field that may cause it to flourish most: biology. Either due to lack of knowledge or necessity, many articles that could have included aspects of biology to support their claim chose not to. In addition, the women’s studies field has made several claims that science is biased, and has used that to discredit certain concrete pieces of information they could be using to their own benefit. Incorporating biology into their work would further fortify their claims, increase their credibility and respectability, as well as widen their target audience towards the scientific realm. The two need not clash, but rather integrate. As it stands, the disconnect from biology may be causing the misanalyzing of certain concepts and hindering the women’s studies field to grow, despite how much more they could accomplish by amending the relationship between the two fields.

An argument that has gained plentiful traction among those in the women’s studies field is that biologists allow bias to affect their perception of research and their own field. Here’s an example: Emily Martin’s “The Egg and the Sperm” critiques how scientific explanations are affected by gender roles, especially when it comes to reproductive systems. She analyzes the story of fertilization the way it is regularly told, questioning the choice of words. Eggs are said to “passively flow down the fallopian tubes,” while the sperm “go on a perilous journey” and travel actively towards the egg.1 Martin claims this personification of the germ cells gives them traits associated with women and men that coat our understanding of the reproductive system1—for instance, how the sperm travel “actively” and the eggs “await rescue.” Without the knowledge of the biological processes themselves, many wouldn’t hesitate to feel bothered by these facts, unable to reason this evidence otherwise. However, the common language in biology is to use “active” to signify energy (ATP) usage and passive to mean the lack thereof. Sperm is designed for travel, its most abundant organelle being mitochondria, so that it can reach the egg (which moves without energy) in the fallopian tubes. Excluding this, either because she chose to do so or simply wasn’t aware of the rhetoric, is harmful because it causes a devaluing and miscrediting of not only her claim, but of the biology field. This is a piece of information that biology majors learn in their freshman year of university, so anyone above that level of learning has the ability to see this flaw and the disconnect between the field of women’s studies and biology.

“The Egg and The Sperm,” published in 1996, has dominated the argument of scientific bias in the study of reproduction, but it seems many are unwilling to critique Martin and adjust her argument. Her purpose with this piece was to critique the impact that bias can have on science, which is an undeniably valid argument. Subjectivity is a myth, as all humans are impacted by their implicit bias and bound to apply that to their research. Yet, this should not be the primary example to support her claim because of its fundamental flaw, making Martin’s lack of knowledge in biology quite clear and weakening what may have otherwise been a very strong piece. In critiquing the bias in science, Martin then made her own bias evident, ultimately deflecting biologists away from the women’s studies field and furthering the divide.

This causes many people—women’s studies writers, biologists, as well as the general population—to view the two as incompatible, contradictory, and mutually exclusive. However, regularly using both lenses to analyze society can be illuminating and beneficial going forward. For instance, take a popular claim made by many feminist writers: sex (in addition to gender) is a socially constructed spectrum dependent on factors beyond just the sex chromosomes people carry. A claim such as this is baseless without the science to support it, so including concrete examples such as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome can help solidify its validity. An individual with this condition, born with XY chromosomes, is phenotypically female because of the lack of androgen receptors. Androgens refer to hormones such as testosterone and DHT, essential for the expression of male traits. This individual, instead, exhibits female traits, but with no internal reproductive system.3 This serves as an incredible example that sex definitions are not so clear-cut because someone may not necessarily be ‘male’ even with XY chromosomes. This also helps explain the issues that may arise with hormone testing in sports, such as what took place with Maria José Martínez-Patiño, a Spanish Olympic hurdler with androgen insensitivity who failed the gender test. These topics can be incredibly complex to understand without a biological background, so creating this bridge between women’s studies and biology can facilitate the discourse surrounding these controversies and intricacies.

Rather than straying away from biology, then, there comes an immense benefit from embracing it and using it to solidify specific concepts and ideas. It can help strengthen feminists’ arguments while also expanding the target audience to those with a higher affinity for biology than sociology. They may also seek to critique biologists, yet they must do so with concrete research to build the discussion rather than hinder it. Once the conversation allows for biology and women’s studies to become amalgamated, the intersection between the two fields will serve to fundamentally shift the way many perceive the world towards a more accurate and educated perspective. This progress can only be achieved with the women’s studies field developing an intimate relationship with biology, using scientific evidence to refute arguments, but most importantly: checking their own bias.


References

1. Martin, E. (spring, 1991). The Egg and The Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles. University of Chicago Press. Signs, Vol. 16(No. 3), 485-501. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174586

2. Notes & Videos- [1.2.1]Compare the mechanisms of active vs. passive transport. (n.d.). University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://canvas.pitt.edu/courses/63946/pages/notes-and-videos-1-dot-2-1-compare-the-mechanisms-of-active-vs-passive-transport

3. Singh, S., & Ilyayeva, S. (2020, June 24). Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542206/.

4. Martinez-Patino, M. J. (2005). Personal Account: A woman tried and tested. Sports and Medicine,366(December), 538-538. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67841-5

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Pavithra Venkataraman, October 24, 2020

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month! See the infographic below for more information.


Now and Then: An Analysis of Forced Sterilizations in the U.S.

by Sanjana Sankaran, October 18, 2020

In early September, news broke out about a whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, who alleged ‘medical neglect’ of ICE detainees and shined a light on the occurrence of unwanted mass hysterectomies. Wooten was a nurse who worked at one of the detention centers in Georgia.  She claimed that the care received was improper and unsafe which likely caused the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the news reports and her statements, approximately seventeen to twenty women have confirmed that they were forcibly sterilized—that is, either their uterus or fallopian tubes were removed.  Wooten called this doctor, who was later identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, a “uterus collector” (Miroff). Dr. Amin is a member of the Irwin County Hospital and has a private clinic close to the detention center.  Since the allegations have come out, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote a letter that was signed by one hundred and seventy-three other representatives to launch an investigation into the medical practitioners employed by ICE, with a focus on Dr. Amin specifically (Miroff).

While the investigation is still ongoing, we know one thing for certain: we’ve been here before.  The U.S. has a historical precedence of conducting mass unwarranted and unwanted hysterectomies, causing many to worry that these allegations are true.

The development of the gynecological sciences itself is rooted in a history of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse toward Black, Latinx, and indigenous women.  In the 19th century, Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is now considered the father of modern gynecology, forcefully performed a number of experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia.  Despite his strategically inhumane testing, Dr. Sims has been lauded for his discoveries and has statues erected in his honor across the country (Lennard). 

We don’t have to look that far in the past to see neglect and abuse in our healthcare system.  In the last century alone, thousands of women were forcibly sterilized across the nation.  At the turn of the 20th century, the eugenics movement started gaining more traction.  Perverting Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” many eugenicists believed it was natural and justified to facilitate the death of those with “unfavorable” genes.  This became shorthand for BIPOC lives, specifically the poor and the disabled.  This widespread scientific belief had shocking sociological implications. In the late 20th century, thirty-two states in the U.S. had federally funded eugenics programs involving sterilizing women who possessed “undesirable” genes (Lennard).   In the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal healthcare service provider for indigenous peoples, conducted hysterectomies at such a wide scale that the impact is still being felt now even generations later.  Around one in four women, and in some communities, as many as one in two women, were forcibly sterilized (Blakemore).

Figure 1 below provides a timeline of reproductive rights (Chuen).

Figure 1. A History of Racism, Sterilization Abuse, and Reproductive Rights (1919 – 1977).

To better understand the role ICE plays in perpetuating medical neglect and abuse, we must acknowledge the history of malicious activities within this organization.  The immigrant detention centers have been linked with racism and medical malpractice. In 1914, the United States Public Health Service partnered with the eugenics movement and worked together to prevent further immigration. They specifically targeted BIPOC’s, poor people, and the disabled implying they were the ones most likely to be criminals. This false view that BIPOC, especially those who are low income and living with disabilities, are more likely to commit crime than well-off able-bodied white people, still shapes our society today, most notably reforming our criminal justice policy (Ordaz).  Prior to President Trump’s election to office in 2016, ICE had an imperative to detain immigrants with criminal records.  Given the negative stereotyping and implicit bias that police officers have against BIPOC, this was already an unfair policy.  The current administration has since expanded this policy to apply to all immigrants who enter the country without documentation, removing the requirement of criminality.  Many federal investigations conducted over the past four years that have raised serious concerns about the state of ICE detention centers.  Specifically, the centers provide inhumane, unsanitary, and unhygienic conditions for detainees. When Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower, spoke out on the conditions of the ICE camps she stated, “I began to ask questions about why the detainees not be tested — symptomatic or non-symptomatic” (Alvarez).  Operationally, the centers already violate standard protocol and indicate clear negligence and devolution of human life (United States, Dept of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General).

During the Trump era beliefs of white supremacy, xenophobia and misogyny have only increased. His beliefs that all Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” emboldened the racist’s in the U.S. further dividing an already divided world. It is astounding that the administration that is so clearly pro-life, allows sterilization to take place, it is an oxymoron. This lack of action is because this administration is not pro-life. If the administration were actually pro-life, they would have had a national mask mandate, done shelter in place in February, stop denying the virus’s fatality rate, and keep the Affordable Care Act, especially for those with pre-existing conditions. 

The allegations of mass hysterectomies in ICE right now must be met with the utmost seriousness.  The doctors who have participated in these events or were bystanders should be met with some kind of consequence. The mass hysterectomies are a direct attack against women and are the result of a long upheld belief that not only do BIPOC women not have value but that women should not be in control of their own bodies. Whether it was one or twenty or a thousand, forced hysterectomies are acts of absolute moral malfeasance. 

Below are other resources to learn more about the history of forced sterilization. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/trump-ice/565772/

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/mass-hysterectomies-ice-happened-trump-s-watch-they-re-america-ncna1240238

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/16/us/ice-hysterectomy-forced-sterilization-history/index.html


Works Cited

Alvarez, Priscilla. “Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2020, http://www.cnn.com/2020/09/15/politics/immigration-customs-enforcement-medical-care-detainees/index.html. 

Blakemore, Erin. “The Little-Known History of the Forced Sterilization of Native American Women.” Daily JSTOR, JSTOR, 25 Aug. 2016, daily.jstor.org/the-little-known-history-of-the-forced-sterilization-of-native-american-women/. 

Chuen, Lorraine. “A Visualized History of Racism and Reproductive Rights in America.” Intersectional Analyst, Intersectional Analyst, 5 Feb. 2016, http://www.intersectionalanalyst.com/intersectional-analyst/2016/2/4/racismreproductiverights.

Lennard, Natasha. “The Long, Disgraceful History of American Attacks on Brown and Black Women’s Reproductive Systems.” The Intercept, 17 Sept. 2020, theintercept.com/2020/09/17/forced-sterilization-ice-us-history/.

Miroff, Nick. “Hospital Where Activists Say ICE Detainees Were Subjected to Hysterectomies Says Just Two Were Performed There.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/ice-detainee-hysterectomies-hospital/2020/09/22/aaf2ca7e-fcfd-11ea-830c-a160b331ca62_story.html.

Minna, Alexandra. “Forced Sterilization Policies in the US Targeted Minorities and Those with Disabilities – and Lasted into the 21st Century.” The Conversation, 5 Oct. 2020, theconversation.com/forced-sterilization-policies-in-the-us-targeted-minorities-and-those-with-disabilities-and-lasted-into-the-21st-century-143144. 

Ordaz, Jessica. “Perspective | Migrant Detention Centers Have a Long History of Medical Neglect and Abuse.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/18/migrant-detention-centers-have-long-history-medical-neglect-abuse/.

United States, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Four Detention Facilities.” Washington: DHS, 2019. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.


Breathing in Discrimination: Asthma and Vulnerable Populations in the United States

by Sophia Garbarino, October 14, 2020

Asthma is a quite common diagnosis in children, and cases have risen significantly in the past few decades. From 1980 to 1996, “the number of individuals with asthma in the United States grew to 73.9%,” roughly equivalent to 14.6 million (Brown et al. 125). Scientific evidence has found correlation between asthma and air pollution, while sociological evidence has linked the condition to socioeconomic status (SES) and racial minorities (Brown et al.). Furthermore, SES influences not only who is diagnosed with asthma, but also who has a better health outcome.

According to “The Health Politics of Asthma: Environmental Justice and Collective Illness Experience in the United States,” a 2003 article co-authored by several sociologists and published in Social Science & Medicine, “asthma has become, for many poor and minority neighborhoods, one of the most visible and pressing problems” (Brown et al. 128). These neighborhoods are most commonly urban, with the past three U.S. Censuses revealing that “well over half of America’s largest cities are now majority non-white” (Frey). The increase in asthma has been attributed to the rise in air pollution, which is typically worst in cities. Public transportation, such as diesel buses, has been criticized for discriminatory budgeting in states including Massachusetts, where the Alternatives for Communities and Environment group (ACE) “successfully framed an issue of transit spending priorities into one of health, justice, and racism” in 2000 (Brown et al. 131). At the time, over half of Boston’s population was non-white, and the folks who relied on the buses to get to work and school were forced to use “dirty” buses that “trigger asthma attacks” on a daily basis (Jimenez; Brown et al. 132-133).

In addition to living in the most polluted and asthma-vulnerable areas, minority populations typically have lower SES than their White counterparts. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the average household income on non-Hispanic Whites was $45,904, while the averages for Hispanics and Blacks were roughly 30% lower at “$33,447 and $30,439, respectively” (Denavas-Walt et al.). Not only do minorities have higher asthma rates, but they are also less likely to be able to afford quality health care. With limited access to quality education and everyday treatments such as albuterol inhalers, “frequent trips to the emergency room are the norm for impoverished families seeking asthma treatment, resulting in both poor management and the loss of control” (Brown et al. 135). Thus, the cycle of poor health continues.

As medical sociologist Irving Kenneth Zola wrote in his 1972 article “Medicine as an Institution of Social Control,” “man’s power over Nature is really the power of some men over other men, with Nature as their instrument” (Zola 599). Asthma is just one example of how SES and race interact, and we have yet to consider other factors such as gender, ability, and ethnicity. Our social structures perpetuate each other and are certainly reflected in our health care system.


Works Cited

Brown, Phil, et al. “The Health Politics of Asthma: Environmental Justice and Collective Illness Experience in the United States.” The Sociology of Health & Illness, edited by Peter Conrad and Valerie Leiter, SAGE Publications, 2019, pp. 125-138.

Denavas-Walt, Carmen, et al. “Money Income in the United States: 2000.” U.S. Census Bureau, 1 Sept. 2001, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2001/demo/p60-213.html.

Frey, William. “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s.” Brookings Institution, May 2011, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0504_census_ethnicity_frey.pdf.

Jimenez, Carmen Rixely. “New Bostonians Demographic Report.” The Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, https://www.cityofboston.gov/newbostonians/pdfs/dem_report.pdf.

Zola, Irving Kenenth. “Medicine as an Institution of Social Control.” The Sociology of Health & Illness, edited by Peter Conrad and Valerie Leiter, SAGE Publications, 2019, pp. 591-603.

COVID-19 Does Discriminate

by Patricia Kozikowski, September 28, 2020

Throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have heard the phrase “the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate” multiple times. But if the virus doesn’t discriminate, why are certain groups of people suffering more than others?

A perfect example of this social issue is the differences in fatality rates in New York City and its surrounding areas. On May 8, 2020, Dr. Sandro Galea reported that the fatality rate from COVID-19 in Brooklyn is 7.8%, in the Bronx is 6.5%, in Queens is 6.8%, in Nassau County is 3.8%, in Suffolk County is 2.6%. Brooklyn has had a COVID-19 fatality rate that is two times higher than in Nassau County. Both of these communities are only 50 minutes away from each other. So why are twice as many people dying from the pandemic in Brooklyn than in a neighboring community that is less than an hour away?

A number of risk factors have been identified as contributing to these differences. Most of these risk factors correlate with income and race (Brown & Ravallion, 2020). While anyone can be infected by COVID-19, people with low-income are suffering more cases and deaths than people with high-incomes. Researchers W. Holmes Finch and Maria E Hernández Finch (2020) at Ball State University examined incidence and death rates during the first ten weeks of the pandemic. They discovered that counties with higher overall poverty had higher numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases than in other counties. Additionally, they discovered that a larger number of deaths were associated with higher incidence of low birth weights and urban areas.

People with low-incomes are not only at a higher risk for infection and other physical health conditions, but they are also at a higher risk for developing mental health issues (Khullar & Chokshi, 2018). Prior to the pandemic, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 9.8 million adults in the United States had a serious mental illness and 25% of those individuals were below the poverty line. Some of the factors that contribute to this relationship are community violence, food insecurity, unstable housing, low-income, and low access to healthcare (Jordan, 2015). Living in this uncertainty can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, eventually leading to larger mental health issues.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health symptoms have risen dramatically in the general population. In a KFF Tracking Poll, 53% of adults in the United States reported that the coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health (Panchal et al., 2020). This was significantly higher than the mental health rates reported in the beginning of March. The pandemic has resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety about infection, social isolation, months of quarantine, the loss of jobs and businesses, and economic uncertainty. Additionally, Torales et al. (2020) reported that lower socioeconomic status (SES), interpersonal conflict, lower resilience, and lower social support are some risk factors that can increase mental health issues during the pandemic. The mental well-being of the general population has decreased, but what does this mean for individuals who were living with low-income before the start of the pandemic?

Residents of low-income communities suffered the mental health effects of poverty long before the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has only added stress to the daily lives of people in these communities. In general, people living with low-incomes report higher levels of negative mental health related to the coronavirus than those with high-incomes. In a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in July, 35% of individuals making less than $40,000 a year, 22% of individuals making between $40,000 to $89,999, and 20% of individuals making over $90,000 reported that they experienced negative mental health related to worry and stress from the coronavirus (Panchal et al., 2020). Additionally, Pew Research Center American Trends Panel conducted a survey measuring the proportion of respondents experiencing psychological distress (Keeter, 2020). They observed that psychological distress was substantially larger in participants in the lower income tertile (33%) than the upper income tertile (17%). Both of these findings suggest that people living with low-incomes are disproportionately affected by the pandemic than their advantaged counterparts.

The coronavirus calls attention to many social issues that are going on in the United States. These physical and mental health issues are not novel but are rooted in decades of systematic inequality. Residents of these low-income communities have always suffered the most. The pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that they deal with on a daily basis. The next time you hear someone say that the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, please remember that some of us are at a higher risk for experiencing the negative effects of the virus. 


References

Brown, C., & Ravallion, M. (2020).  Poverty, inequality, and COVID-19 in the US. https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us.

Finch, W. H., & Finch, M. E. H. (2020). Poverty and Covid-19: Rates of Incidence and Deaths in the United States During the First 10 Weeks of the Pandemic. Frontiers in Sociology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsoc.2020.00047

Galea, S. (2020, May 8). COVID-19 Is Bad for All but Devastating for the Poor. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-health/202005/covid-19-is-bad-all-devastating-the-poor.

Jordan, R. (2015, May 13). Poverty’s toll on mental health. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/povertys-toll-mental-health

Keeter, S. (2020, July 27). People financially affected by coronavirus outbreak are experiencing more psychological distress than others. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/30/people-financially-affected-by-covid-19-outbreak-are-experiencing-more-psychological-distress-than-others/

Khullar, D., & Chokshi, D. A. (2018, October 4). Health, Income, & Poverty: Where We Are & What Could Help. Health, Income, & Poverty: Where We Are & What Could Help | Health Affairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hpb20180817.901935/full/ 

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). https://nsduhweb.rti.org/respweb/homepage.cfm

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Chidabaram, P., Cailey, Hamel, L., Garfield, R., … Orgera, K. (2020, August 21). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

Torales, J., O’Higgins, M., Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., & Ventriglio, A. (2020). The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 66(4), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020915212

COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Blacks and Indigenous Americans

by Sophia Garbarino, August 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected every American in some way. We’ve had to quarantine, socially distance, and make the difficult decision to avoid seeing those we care about, all to stop the spread of the virus. We’ve seen restaurants close, schools go completely online, and unemployment skyrocket. Most importantly, we’ve seen sickness and death at an insurmountable rate. Both the sick and healthy have died, and as of August 20th this year, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States is 172,416 (CDC).

Beyond the six-figure number, we’ve also witnessed weeks of unrest across the country, with people rallying in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, MN, triggered waves of protest both in the streets and online. While being arrested for paying with a counterfeit bill, Mr. Floyd “was killed by police” after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept “his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck… for a total of nine minutes and 30 seconds” (Willis et al.). Police brutality has long plagued our country, and it is only now being recognized, thanks to body camera technology.

While these deaths may appear mutually exclusive at first, we cannot ignore the alarming extent to which systemic racism affects our people. Not only are Black folx subject to over-policing and constant fear, but they are also more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. According to a recent COVID-19 study by the APM (American Public Media) Research Lab, “the heaviest losses [are] among Black and Indigenous Americans” (APM Research Lab Staff). In the last five months, Blacks and Indigenous Americans have seen the highest death rates (see fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Cumulative actual COVID-19 mortality rates per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, April 13-Aug. 18, 2020 from APM Research Lab,  http://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

The study found that “Black Americans continue to experience the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—more than twice as high as the rate for Whites and Asians, who have the lowest actual rates” (APM). Though COVID-19 arrived in the United States from China, Asian-Americans ironically have the second-lowest rate of contracting the virus. Yet as another reflection of racism, President Donald Trump previously referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus” and defended himself on multiple occasions (Chiu). Furthermore, Washington Post photojournalist Jabin Botsford posted proof of the president’s stance on Twitter, as shown below:

While the American president fuels racist agendas, Blacks and Indigenous Americans are being, perhaps avoidably, killed by the novel coronavirus. Individually, “Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander and Latino Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of triple or more White Americans (age-adjusted)” (APM). It’s important to note that while adjusting for age “remove[s] the role of age differences,” it also “increases the COVID-19 mortality rate for all racial and ethnic groups except for Whites” (APM). However, even without age adjustments, the death rates are still higher than those of Whites (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Actual versus Age-adjusted mortality rates by race/ethnicity through Aug. 18, 2020 (Blacks are on the far left in green, and Whites are on the far right in dark blue) from APM Research Lab, http://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

The biggest question to answer is, why? Why are so many more Blacks dying from COVID-19 than other ethnicities? The answer is not as complex as you may think, and it has almost nothing to do with genetics.

According to Our World in Data, risk factors for contracting the coronavirus include:

  • Age,
  • Smoking and other lung compromises,
  • Obesity, and
  • Access to handwashing facilities and healthy hygiene practices (Roser et al.).

Black communities are more at risk for high COVID-19 rates thanks to systemic racism. Its influence on our policies and structures is deeply rooted in American history, dating back to colonization, slavery, and the White Man’s Burden. These practices and beliefs are still affecting us today, much more than most of us may realize.

Dr. Leonard Egede and Dr. Rebekah Walker of the Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Advancing Population Science (CAPS) recently published an article about the way systemic racism affects COVID-19 death rates in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” Here, they provide a detailed explanation of how racial structures in the United States

“affect health through a variety of pathways, including social deprivation from reduced access to employment, housing, and education; increased environmental exposures and targeted marketing of unhealthy substances; inadequate access to health care; physical injury and psychological trauma resulting from state-sanctioned violence such as police brutality and chronic exposure to discrimination; and diminished participation in healthy behaviors or increased participation in unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms.”

Egede and Walker

After generations of being oppressed by the systems that are supposed to protect their rights and liberties, Black Americans are still facing racism and the powerful White agenda to keep them controlled and confined to lower economic classes (keep in mind that many Whites do not support this agenda; it derives from centuries of international racial divides, especially between Whites and Blacks). The coronavirus was just an unpredicted catalyst for exposing this agenda to the mass media and general population. Blacks continue to face death and discrimination from every side, from job opportunities to police brutality to medical care, and it now seems only more inescapable.

We must also be aware of the effects of COVID-19 on the Indigenous American population. We all know that frequently washing your hands with soap and water helps prevent contracting the coronavirus, but many indigenous populations do not have running water. This is nothing new, either; about 90% of the Navajo Nation (located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) lives without running water. They also have “one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the U.S.” (Baek). This is no coincidence, and we must be aware of these issues in order to make progress towards a solution.

The Navajo Water Project, a non-profit organization focused on providing clean, running water to Navajo folx, reports that 1 in 3 Navajo families have to haul water home every day (Navajo Water Project). As the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stated earlier this year,

“We are United States citizens but we’re not treated like that… we once again have been forgotten by our own government.”

Navajo Water Project

The astonishingly low access to basic hygiene resources like running water can be sourced back to the colonization period, when Indigenous Americans were massacred and terrorized by the White colonizers. Only a few tribes were able to secure their rightful territory. When the government signed the Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868, the tribe was finally able to return home after being “forcefully and permanently removed from their ancestral territory” (Ault).

Even though they live on their own land, the Navajo nation is still unable to access the same basic resources as all other U.S. citizens. The majority live below the poverty line, have no running water, toilets, or sinks, and lack adequate funds for education. This is why there are such high rates of coronavirus in these reservations; even before the pandemic hit, they had no defenses. After age-adjustment, “Indigenous people are 3.4 times more likely to have died than Whites,” and in Mississippi, over 1000 indigenous people have died from coronavirus compared to the 44 Whites as of August 18, 2020 (APM). This astounding disparity is undoubtedly race-related.

“The racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality—due to these compounding, elevated risks from our systems of housing, labor force, health care, and policy responses—are what is termed systemic racism

APM Research Lab

Our nation is not only experiencing a public health crisis, but also a crisis in justice. Our Constitution states that all men (and women) are created equal, but we are not, at least in the eyes of our racially-influenced institution. Our own citizens are being mistreated, discriminated against, abused, and ultimately killed. COVID-19 isn’t just a health concern—it’s a race concern. An ethnic concern. A justice concern. It’s your concern.

So what can you do to help? First and foremost, you can help spread awareness. Post on your social media accounts, talk about these issues with your friends and family, and of course, practice preventative measures against COVID-19, like frequently washing your hands with soap and water and social distancing. Listed below are resources to help you learn more about what was discussed in this article.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Navajo Water Project


Works Cited

APM Research Lab Staff. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” APM Research Lab, 18 Aug. 2020, www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

Baek, Grace. “Navajo Nation residents face coronavirus without running water.” CBS News, 8 May 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-navajo-nation-running-water-cbsn-originals/.

“Cases in the U.S.” CDC, 20 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html.

Chiu, Allyson. “Trump has no qualms about calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus.’ That’s a dangerous attitude, experts say.” Washington Post, 20 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trump-chinese-virus/.

Egede, Leonard, and Walker, Rebekah. “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 383, 2020, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2023616.

@jabinbotsford. “Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes.” Twitter, 19 Mar. 2020, 2:06 p.m., twitter.com/jabinbotsford/status/1240701140141879298.

The Navajo Water Project. The DigDeep Right to Water Project, 2014, www.navajowaterproject.org.

Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). Our World in Data, 21 Aug. 2020, ourworldindata.org/coronavirus#risk-factors-for-the-coronavirus-disease.Willis, Haley, et al. “New Footage Shows Delayed Medical Response to George Floyd.” New York Times, 11 Aug. 2020, /www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/us/george-floyd-body-cam-full-video.html?searchResultPosition=1