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Our Healthcare System


Published in the issue.

How do we proclaim the Kingdom of God in a land where the many police killings of African Americans and the COVID-19 pandemic have put systemic racism front and center? Now more than ever, we are seeing precisely how racist our healthcare system is. Even before the pandemic’s onset, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin had passed the nation’s first resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. Now some 60 municipalities have passed or are considering passing legislation to this effect, according to the American Public Health Association.

As a result of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tweeted June 8 that “Racism is a public health crisis. … In NYC, Black and Brown communities face the disproportionate impact, grief and loss from the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the trauma of state sanctioned violence. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is committed to addressing structural racism within our own institution and addressing racism as a social determinant of health as part of our mission to protect the health of New Yorkers. …”

In a June 4th op-ed in The Washington Post, representatives from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health noted that racism is killing Black Americans—both by fueling police violence against them and by propelling adverse socioeconomic conditions that contribute to serious health issues. A study by Duke University shows that the Latinx community has been disproportionally hurt by the coronavirus pandemic due to their jobs as essential workers and to close living quarters that house multi-generations.

In our own diocese, NY1 and Bronx News 12 have chronicled the ravages of the pandemic on St. Luke’s Church in the Bronx. Over 20 members of the congregation have died from coronavirus. Some of these deaths might have been prevented if folks had not been refused care when they needed it. Thy kingdom come, O Lord. What we are seeing are the inequalities in our society, says the rector of St. Luke’s, the Rev. Dr. Pierre André Duvert. Black and Latinx people have increased exposure to the virus because so many don’t have the luxury to work from home. They have increased susceptibility due to many factors such as living in crowded housing conditions; inconsistent access to health care; chronic health conditions; and the day-to-day stress of being a person of color in this country. Black and Latinx people are faced with social determinants that lead to unequal access to goods and services. Black and Latino/a people have to deal with racism in all of its ugly forms. These factors put communities of color at disproportionate risk for getting infected and getting sicker with COVID-19.

I am reminded for Bob Marley’s paraphrasing of Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon
where we sat down
and there we wept
when we remembered Zion
’cause the wicked
carried us away – captivity
required from us a song
how can we sing King Alpha’s song
in a strange land?

How can America and the Episcopal Church proclaim Thy Kingdom Come when so many of us are considered as other and not fully human? The wickedness of racism must end. How racist is our healthcare system outside of the pandemic? It is very racist. We have a medical system that teaches that Black people do not feel pain. A friend of mine was not given the proper anesthesia for a colonoscopy. She cried out in pain, could hardly walk afterwards, and was in pain for over a month. The doctor lied to her and said that people over 60 are not sedated for the procedure. Black women are dying in childbirth in increasing numbers: In New York City, black women are estimated to be up to 12 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women and are three times more likely to suffer from life-threatening complications according to a 2018 study.

Yes, the healthcare system is racist, and if we proclaim the kingdom of God, we must end the sin of racism that is being perpetuated by those who identify racially as White. Or is the kingdom of God for a chosen few?