Notes from Susan: Covid-19 Reveals The “Weathering” Of African-Americans

Notes from Susan: Covid-19 Reveals The “Weathering” Of African-Americans


Notes from Susan: Covid-19 Reveals The “Weathering” Of African-Americans

By Susan MacLaury

By now we’ve all undoubtedly learned that African-Americans, particularly males – are dying at disproportionately higher rates from COVID-19 than any other segment of the US population.

Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, recently proclaimed this fact a “call to action moment” for her city in which Black citizens comprise more than half of all diagnosed cases of the corona virus and 72% of its deaths, while being less than 1/3 the total population. Statewide, African-Americans represent 15% of Illinois’ total population yet account for 28% of those testing positive and 43% of all deaths. Most states have not released their figures but one has to assume similar disparities may well be revealed throughout the US.

Arline Geronimus, Professor of Public Health at the University of Michigan, studies what is called “weathering,” the cumulative effect of stress resulting from racial discrimination, long-term exposure to environmental toxins, redlining that limits essential services, disproportionate victimization by crime… the list continues… on persons of color. All these factors, increase the vulnerability of African- Americans, particularly males, to develop underlying problems like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease ,which as we now understand increases the likelihood of dying from this virus. Is anyone reading this surprised?

Shine Global promotes social change for kids and families by bringing their stories to the screen and then to classrooms around the world. Many of our film subjects have experienced the “weathering” Dr. Geronimus describes.

Our second film, released in 2011, was The Harvest (La Cosecha), which documented the lives of three American migrant child workers of Hispanic descent and their families, who were unprotected by federal laws as they picked much of the produce Americans eat. They suffered physically, educationally and financially to feed American families. Ironically, after years of discrimination and even threatened deportation, these workers are now deemed “essential” to the American economy even as they continue to live in substandard housing and can’t afford to buy the produce they have picked.

This year, we completed a short documentary, Virtually Free, that explores another aspect of institutional racism in the US – its juvenile justice system. African-American youths make up 14% of the US population under 18 yet 42% of males detained are Black, as are 35% of females.1 The product of substandard housing, education, and racial discrimination, 78% will go on to reoffend and the majority will never graduate from high school.

There is great good that can come from this period of uncertainty, including the sincere profession by so many that: “We’re all in this together.” Let’s make sure we extend this heartfelt compassion to all young Americans who deserve safe, supportive childhoods.