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Rushing the reopen process will harm African Americans even more

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It has been said that when America catches a cold, Black America gets the flu. As our nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, this adage is more true than ever. Yes, all Americans are in this struggle together, but African Americans, and other communities of color, are facing a disproportionate share of this pandemic’s pain.

The data speaks for itself. In Indiana and across the nation, our Black and Brown communities have seen higher infection rates, hospitalization rates and fatality rates from COVID-19. As of May 1, African Americans — while making up 9.8% of our state’s population — disproportionately represent 15.2% of all COVID-19 cases and 16.8% of all deaths from COVID-19.

And this isn’t by chance. 

After centuries of systemic inequality and discrimination, it is inevitable that our communities are hit harder. Preexisting health conditions suffered more often by African Americans, like heart disease, hypertension and asthma, make us more susceptible to severe complications from viruses like COVID-19. Unfortunately, a higher uninsured rate among African Americans makes it more difficult for us to get tested and obtain treatment. Additionally, the dense urban neighborhoods that many call home means COVID-19 has spread at an extremely rapid rate here. Moreover, a disproportionate share of the jobs deemed essential by state and local governments — nurses, transportation employees, sanitation workers and grocery store workers to name just a few — are held by African Americans. This reality dramatically increases the likelihood that African Americans are exposed to and contract COVID-19. All of these factors and more have created a perfect storm that has been devastating for Black America.

Unbelievably, as infections and deaths continue to climb higher by the day, some leaders are prematurely declaring victory over the virus and planning to reopen their respective states and jurisdictions far too early. In Georgia, for example, where the heavily African American southwest part of the state continues to see some of the highest death rates in the nation from COVID-19, Gov. Brian Kemp has already allowed large sectors of the economy to reopen. A recent headline in The Washington Post was stark, “For Black folks, it’s like a setup: Are you trying to kill us?” It’s difficult not to conclude that Gov. Kemp is ignoring the plight of his fellow Georgians most affected by COVID-19 and dismissing the advice of health and scientific experts.

We can’t let the same story unfold here in Indiana, or anywhere else in America. Though Black people have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, we must work to ensure that our nation’s response going forward does a better job of protecting and helping the Americans who have shouldered a disproportionate share of illness, misery, grief and economic disruption. 

I’m working hard to achieve this goal. Late last month, Congress passed an additional emergency relief package totaling nearly $500 billion dollars. It provides more supplies for our health care workers, more money for testing and additional funds for small businesses that have traditionally been overlooked by big lenders, such as women- and minority-owned businesses and community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

I’m also engaging in ongoing conversations with fellow Hoosiers about this issue. Just a couple weeks ago, I was honored to participate in a virtual town hall hosted by this very publication that focused on COVID-19’s impact on Indianapolis’ African American community. I was joined by Dr. Virginia Caine, director of Marion County Public Health Department; Inez Evans, president and CEO of IndyGo; and Dr. David Hampton, deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement for Indianapolis. I want to thank them all for a wonderful discussion and for their tireless work on behalf of our community.

Though times are extremely tough right now, there’s still good news. For example — the efforts and advocacy of hard-working Hoosiers, like the public servants mentioned above, give me hope that our city is in good hands. 

I also know that African Americans have consistently survived unimaginable indignities and perils that would have overcome others. We lean on the strength of our ancestors and rise above the struggles we’ve experienced. Through centuries of unspeakable hardship, we have never stopped working to make this country a more equitable and compassionate society for people of color, and for all of our fellow Americans. This unshakeable spirit is on full display during this crisis. Though we’re not out of the woods yet, I believe we will emerge stronger, and this trial will ultimately strengthen our continuing work to achieve equality for all.

Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.  

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