Letter from the Executive Director
05/27/2020

The Front Lines of Othering

The coronavirus crisis, which has now killed an astonishing 100,000 people in the United States, continues to disproportionately affect communities of color here and across the country. This crisis has highlighted and exacerbated inequities that have too long existed in the U.S. No data point is more alarming than this: Covid-19 is killing Black people at 2.4 times the rate of white people

And while the disparity in deaths nationwide is not reflected in the data in Columbus, there has still been a disparate impact here according to Columbus Public Health Director Dr. Mysheika Roberts.

“By looking at the data, it’s been clear that some in our community have been disproportionately impacted,” she recently told The Columbus Dispatch.

Race’s ever-present role has made effectively responding to this crisis all the more difficult. Masks, for example, have a clear public health benefit in limiting community spread of the disease. But there are unique challenges for people of color in wearing a mask, as one Columbus resident recently explained in the Boston Globe. He wrote that he does not feel safe wearing a mask because he fears the threat that racism poses: “I want to stay alive,” he wrote, “but I also want to stay alive.”

If anyone doubted him, America quickly justified his concern. Six U.S. Senators have been pushing for anti-bias training for law enforcement, but the problem goes beyond bias, as the killing of George Floyd tragically demonstrates. Furthermore, anti-bias training for law enforcement cannot stop everyone else from weaponizing bias in every day life, an occurrence that is all too common–it preceded the coronavirus, of course, and will long outlast it. The problem must be torn out root and branch.

Addressing race and racism must therefore be at the forefront as our community continues responding to the coronavirus crisis. There are right ways to do this, and there are wrong ways.

I’m grateful for the good work of the Wexner Medical Center’s Autumn Glover, and their distribution of community care kits and masks, and I’m similarly grateful to the City’s social media campaigns encouraging mask-wearing, too. We need more thoughtful efforts like these that address urgent basic needs, and urgent systemic ones, with the ultimate goal of making everyone in our community safer.

This is why I was happy to represent HSC in testifying in support of the County Commissioners’ recent declaration that racism is a public health crisis. In my closing remarks, I quoted the former Executive Director of Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute and current Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, john a. powell. “The Color Line” was the problem of the 20th Century, he has written. But the problem of the 21st Century is “othering,” which undergirds a range of societal maladies: from hunger and food insecurity, to the spread of disease. 

Our agencies are on the front lines of this crisis, too.

This affects all of us, and we must fight it together for the safety of us all.