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A “Racially Just Recovery”

by Kennedi Munson

In this year's PANAMUN XXIX conference, The Social, Cultural and Humanitarian Committee (SOCHUM) will be addressing the increase of racial inequity during the COVID-19 pandemic. As mentioned in their first issue bulletin, “For the past few hundred years, discrimination against different races has been causing several issues. However, these past few years, there has been an increase in protests, newspaper headlines, and other events that have brought awareness to this racial discrimination”. With a focus on: The Outbreak of COVID-19, The Stop Asian Hate Protests, Black Lives Matter Protests, and The Racial Disparities on Vaccinations, it goes without saying that whilst 2020 was an unorthodox year, it caused many to finally confront the horrifying truth that systemic racism and injustice haven’t necessarily “ceased to exist.”

According to the BBC, global pandemics such as COVID-19 thrive on inequity, and in-turn highlight how inequity prospers on inaction. Statistics detail how “virus death rates were highest among people of Black and Asian ethnic groups” given “they had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared to white British people.” It’s apparent that the byproduct of COVID encourages one to look beyond the lens of statistics, and rather, how it relates to a deeply-rooted history of systemic and structural racism within hegemonic countries such as the United States. The Conversation defines systemic racism as “how ideas of white superiority are captured in everyday thinking at a systems-level: taking in the big picture of how society operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions”. Issues like COVID reflect such a definition with respect to the healthcare system, and how it “permits the establishment of patterns, procedures, practices, and policies that consistently penalizes and exploits people because of their race, color, culture or ethnic origin.” With regard to matters such as limited access to high-quality healthcare, underrepresentation in clinical trials, implicit bias, and more, it’s clear that the pandemic has revealed the initially concealed racial disparities in health and health care. It’s also emphasized how if institutions want “equality and equity” they need to address the “unjust policies” that don’t align with that mentality.

New York City recognizes such institutionalized issues, and condemns them, as illustrated in their recent resolution on October 18th, that “declared racism a public health crisis”. Amid the widespread protests after the killing of George Floyd, accompanied by their prominent COVID deaths amongst marginalized groups, New York City is now making it “their mission to protect the health of New Yorkers”. In summary, the resolution’s aim is to “influence the Health Department to work with other agencies to root out systemic racism within policies, plans, and budgets…”. By exploring the question of “Why people of color develop severe diseases and die from COVID-19 at faster rates than white (individuals)”, this resolution intends to address how the structural and environmental factors within the healthcare system impact communities of color. At the end of the day, “COVID-19 was like a magnifying glass for us to see what has already been in existence for a long time,” states Dr. Kitaw Demissie, dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn. From the accumulation of environmental racism to elevated stress from police brutality to economic disadvantages, it’s apparent that people of color, in general, have had it, and COVID was an opportunity for other individuals to see it as well. Ultimately demonstrating how “Racial/ethnic disparities in health have (always) been a pandemic.”

New York City’s “hopeful milestone” speaks to this year's PANAMUN theme of “Recovering Hope”, in relation to how, despite the tragic losses the city faced, they’re recognizing what changes need to be made within the community, and going at it from both an educated and understanding perspective. Yet, though this is admirable progress on New York City's end, one must also acknowledge that “this is just one piece of a much larger puzzle”. Seeing how this resolution is implemented and invested into, the changes that come out of it will be more “significant”; however, it’ll be fascinating to see what other cities or potentially states follow New York City's admirable lead.


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