While we have all been appropriately covering our faces to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the pandemic, accompanied by economic implosion and racial protests, has unmasked systemic injustice. Frustration with racial injustice has boiled over in the United States this past week, but the U.S. and Mexico hold in common many fundamentals for systemic injustice.
The trifecta of crises has produced stark reminders of how unequal suffering is in our societies. Making direct comparisons between the two countries is difficult because of how statistics are kept (or not kept). Nevertheless, here are a few questions that have brought systemic injustice to the fore in recent weeks.
Who dies from Covid-19? A study produced by the Brookings Institution highlighted racial disparity in Covid-19 deaths. In Louisiana, Blacks make up a third of the population, but represent 70% of the Covid-19 deaths. Similar patterns are being documented in other cities including Washington, DC. Poor pre-existing health conditions are often blamed for the disparity. The article’s author Rashawn Ray, argues that a variety of structural realities create health disparities, “Blacks, relative to Whites, are more likely to live in neighborhoods with a lack of healthy food options, green spaces, recreational facilities, lighting, and safety.” All things that contribute to better overall health environment.
Official Mexican statistics on Covid-19 do not document race.
Who is hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic? This one is obvious, those who didn’t have much economic margin to begin with. Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy, CONEVAL, reports that economic fallout from the virus could force 9 million Mexicans into poverty, a 50% increase from 2018. Feeding America, a network of foodbanks in the United States, estimates that one in six people in the U.S. could face hunger as a result of the pandemic. Prior to Covid-19, the number was one in nine.
Who dies at the hands of the police? The project mappingpoliceviolence.org has found that in the United States, “Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”
Who goes to jail? While I would argue that the criminal justice system “works” much better for the rich than the poor, the data in the U.S. is recorded by race. According to fwd.us
Systemic injustice in no less a problem in Mexico and is borne out by any number of other statistics. For example, a CONAPRED study found that 54% of Mexicans reported having been discriminated against because of their appearance in the previous 12 months. Official statistics report that 87% of indigenous municipalities experience high or very high marginalization.
The gruesome death of Floyd George at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, while others watched, has spurred an unexpected wave of protest across the U.S. The death of Giovanni Lopez at the hands of the police in Guadalajara has prompted protest in Mexico as well.
These past few weeks and months have been brutal. The question is, “What will we do with this experience?” If we return to the previous normal, without addressing the social and economic inequities that have been so grossly brought to our attention, we will deserve the animosity and unrest that will no doubt follow.
At some point in the future, when we can all take off our masks, let’s make sure that we come out of this with more equitable and systemic change.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson