Michael McEachrene

COVID-19: Disproportionally Hits Segregated Communities


Blogpost on COVID-19 and segregated communities by Michael McEachrane, Visiting Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights. 

Across the world, the infection, lockdown and economic ramifications of COVID-19 are disproportionally affecting Black and Brown people. This is true both domestically and internationally.

In Sweden, Stockholm is thus far the epicenter of corona related deaths, disproportionally in segregated communities with a majority of people of colour. In France, the death rates are higher in the racially segregated “banlieues” around Paris and other cities. In the UK, so-called Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities make up 13% of the population, but 35% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

BAME make up 44% of all medical staff, but 72% of its deaths by exposure to the virus. Similar numbers are coming out of the US, where Black people make up 13 percent of the population, but 30% of COVID-19 patients.

Vulnerable Communities

As people of colour disproportionally belong to socio-economically poor and vulnerable communities, the COVID-19 lockdowns and layoffs are disproportionally impacting people of colour. For example, in France’s banlieues the amount of people who no longer have money for food is rapidly growing with increasingly long lines of Black and Brown people in front of makeshift soup kitchens.

The unequal enjoyment of social, economic and other human rights of people of colour within developed countries is reflected internationally in inequalities between developed and developing countries.

Although in most developing countries COVID-19 has not yet spread extensively, the lockdowns and economic fallouts are already having a major impact on their populations and fiscal health. In the Caribbean, Barbados and other countries are already approaching the IMF and World Bank for more loans to handle growing economic crises due to a drop in tourism and other reasons.

African States

Most COVID-19 emergency loans from the IMF and World Bank have gone to African states. From IMF alone to a tune of 7.5 Billion USD. Nigeria has lent 3.4 Billion USD from IMF, largely due to a COVID19 related drop in the price of crude oil on the global market. The other week Ghana decided to lift much of its lockdown citing its adverse effects on the poor. There are at least three lessons that we in the developed world can draw from this with respect to human rights and sustainable development.

First lesson is that we can no longer afford to treat social and economic rights as an afterthought to civil and political rights.

Socio-Economic Crisis

Besides being a health crisis, the pandemic is also a socio-economic crisis. Likewise, besides being environmental crises, ecological emergencies in the future will likely also be socio-economic crises.

Indivisible as all human rights may be, social and economic rights need to be treated on par with civil and political rights and in times of great socio-economic distress even be emphasized.

This should not least apply to the promotion by developed countries of human rights in developing countries. Developed countries should put a moratorium on lecturing developing countries on civil and political rights without at least equally promoting social and economic rights.

Second, developed countries need to fully recognize both that ensuring social equality and non-discrimination is integral to human rights and that racial discrimination domestically is reflected in racial discrimination internationally.

The preexisting racial inequities that COVID-19 is exposing are antithetical to principles of equal human dignity, rights and non-discrimination. The global “colour line”—as the great African American anti-racist intellectual W.E.B. DuBois pointed out at the turn of the 20th Century—which the impacts of COVID-19 are laying bare, have both national and international dimensions. Unless developed states in earnest begin addressing racial discrimination and inequities at home, it is hard to see that they will be willing to do so internationally.

Eliminating Racial Discrimination

This brings us to the third lesson of COVID-19. As partly recognized by the current sustainable development goals—promoting equality of human dignity within countries needs to be coupled with promoting equality between countries.

Eliminating racial discrimination and inequities within developed countries should be coupled with eliminating racial discrimination and inequities between developed and developing countries.

Developed countries have for too long actively promoted an international economy, governance structure, rules- and law-making as well as access to justice that remain deeply unequal.

This too needs to change.

Best regards,

Michael McEachrane, Visiting Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights.

This is a series of updates regarding the Coronavirus from Human Rights Experts – read more here