Brazil’s major cities are reopening—with packed bars in Rio de Janeiro and restaurants serving up crowds in São Paulo—despite the lethality of COVID-19, which had caused more than 112 thousand deaths as of August 20.
The reopening of bars and restaurants during the height of the pandemic demonstrates how the virus differentially affects people of different races and socioeconomic levels.
A study by the Health Operations and Intelligence Center (NOIS), an initiative involving several Brazilian universities, found that a black person without schooling is four times more likely to die from the novel coronavirus in Brazil than a white person with a higher level of education.
Based on cases through May, the study also shows that the overall mortality rate of 38 percent for the white population climbs to nearly 55 percent for the Brazil’s black population. "The mortality rate in Brazil is influenced by inequalities in access to treatment," Silvio Hamacher, NOIS coordinator and one of the study's authors, told EFE.
Painfully, this trend is repeated in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. This demonstrates that one of the factors behind the high mortality rate of COVID-19 is environmental racism—a phenomenon in which the negative and unintended consequences of economic activities are unevenly distributed.
While all activity generates some environmental impact, the territories chosen to carry it out are usually regions located on the outskirts of the city, inhabited by traditional or outlying communities.
In Brazil, environmental racism affects both outlying urban communities and traditional rural communities. And, as in the United States, one of its characteristics is the disproportionate pollution suffered by these minority groups in comparison with the white middle class. This includes the contamination of air and water with toxic agents, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, plastics, and so on.
Therefore, in discussing and addressing the pandemic, it is essential to know that it does not reach all people in the same way, that it puts traditional communities at risk of extinction, and that environmental issues are also public health issues.
To overcome the global health crisis, we must bring this racism to the center of the debate.