COVID-19 and Racism: The Interconnected Pandemics  that have Left Black Families the Hardest Hit

COVID-19 and Racism: The Interconnected Pandemics that have Left Black Families the Hardest Hit

by May 24, 2021

First national report explores how Black families are experiencing COVID-19,

while battling the legacy of structural racism and discrimination

(CHAPEL HILL, NC) May 24, 2021 – As the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death approaches, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Boston University are shining a rare spotlight on the compounded factors that contribute to the widespread devastation and racial trauma experienced by Black families during the pandemic. The report, “BLACK PARENT VOICES: Resilience in the Face of the Two Pandemics—COVID-19 and Racism” was recently released by the Researchers Investigating Sociocultural Equity and Race Network (RISER), which is dedicated to child development and racial justice issues.

The groundbreaking study examines the historical and contemporary inequities that Black families and communities have experienced in their daily lives. It also provides a comprehensive analysis of how the pandemic is affecting Black families’ experiences with racism and discrimination, financial security, mental health, wellbeing, early care and education options.

Black adults are at the highest risk of being afflicted, hospitalized with and dying from the coronavirus, and Black children contract and are hospitalized at higher rates than White children. Simultaneously, as compared with Whites, Black adults are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed and underemployed, of low income or wealth, be killed by police and be imprisoned in their lifetimes.

The RISER Network is calling for a comprehensive approach in policy development and relief for Black families and communities which have been disproportionately impacted by police violence, the global coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. The network’s research reveals how racism is an environmental construct that drives health and education disparities among children ages zero to eight years old.

“Through this research, we hope to shift mindsets about Black families’ survival and resilience amid the pandemic, despite the systems of inequities that are working against them,” said RISER Network Co-founder Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka. “It’s important to understand that whatever happens with Black families is also happening with all families, thus creating the impetus for a unified push for inclusive, anti-racist policies that will improve lives.”

“Black families voices and lives matter, and the stories that were brought to light in this report clearly illustrate the collective trauma and suffering they’re enduring during the current health and economic crisis,” RISER Network Co-Founder Dr. Stephanie M. Curenton said.  “This study will be part of a larger continuum of high-quality, scientific data around Black families that addresses the structural issues they’ve faced before and during the pandemic.”

Among the Report’s Key Findings:

1. Racism and discrimination have an overarching negative impact on the experiences and lives of Black children and their families, and this negative impact has continued throughout the pandemic.

  • More than 25 percent of Black parents were concerned about their children’s experiences and treatment before and during the pandemic due to their race.
  • The most common discrimination experienced by Black parents was being called a derogatory name/racial slur (59 percent prior to the pandemic, and 32 percent during the pandemic), followed by mistreatment by police, being discouraged from educational opportunities, not being hired for a job and receiving worse service or being denied service.

2. Black families are experiencing high levels of economic instability regardless of household income level.

  • Over 40 percent of Black families below or near poverty are feeling a financial strain even after the receipt of stimulus checks.
  •  One out of three Black families below or near the poverty line are having a hard time or very hard time paying for basic needs.

3. Black parents delayed health care visits primarily due to concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus, and an inability to find early care and education options while they attended their health visit.

  • Almost a third of Black parents reported their child missed a well-baby or well-child checkup during the pandemic.
  • Concern over being exposed to the virus was the primary reason for missing the checkup. In addition, Black parents reported that lack of early care and education, caring for family members, cost of care and inability to leave work caused them to delay health care.

4. Many Black parents reported experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic, including anxiety, depression, stress and loneliness.

  • Black parents overwhelmingly reported experiencing stress throughout the survey: At least 70 percent expressed experiencing stress each week of the survey.
  • Loneliness was the least frequently reported threat to mental health across the survey, but as many as 81 percent of Black parents reported experiencing loneliness at multiple points across the survey.

5. Concerns about the coronavirus, coupled with the loss of early care and education providers and the reduction of in-person opportunities, have resulted in many parents managing their children’s learning and care while continuing to work full-time.

  • Thirty-two percent of Black parents reported concern for their child’s care and education pre-pandemic; this number increased to 44 percent during the pandemic.
  • The majority of young Black children’s learning is being handled primarily by parents (85 percent), with smaller proportions of Black families reporting relying upon assistance from grandparents (25 percent).

Recommendations

Different models of health care services, including telehealth and mobile health care, are most effective if they incorporate culturally appropriate and anti-racist strategies that promote “radical healing.” As Black families and children are disproportionately at high risk of being hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus, these alternative models can limit their exposure to the virus.

In-person learning options for Black children, in addition to extended paid sick and personal leave, need to be prioritized for parents who are the sole providers for their families and already experience economic distress. There is an urgent need for the early care and education providers that serve Black children to have the economic material resources, human capital and supports to remain open and to provide safe and high-quality care that meets the needs of families and children.

Black families are in dire need of more access to financial tools to overcome historical and contemporary economic hardships. Federal relief funding and greater access to financial institutions is urgently needed to meet the needs of Black families that have historically been left out and not able to fully participate in the American dream.

There is an urgent need for anti-racist policies and strategies that promote positive outcomes and opportunities for Black families and children. Comprehensive, anti-racist policies can help to dismantle structural inequities and address police brutality, violence, harsh punishments, unfair treatment in institutions including early care, health care and education. Legislative bodies at the state level can be tasked with reviewing and recommending racial equity policies across government agencies.

The RISER Network’s full report explores quality of life, racial trauma and socio-economic issues in greater detail. It includes action items and first-hand accounts from Black families. The report surveyed Black parents on a weekly basis from May to December 2020, and includes data from the RAPID-EC project at the University of Oregon.

The RISER Network is co-led by Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka, founding director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute focused on aligning research, practice, and policies for the positive development of Black children and their families. Dr. Stephanie M. Curenton, a tenured associate professor in the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, also serves as co-lead of the RISER Network.

The report can be downloaded in its entirety on the RISER Network’s website.


About the RISER Network

The Researchers Investigating Sociocultural Equity and Race Network (RISER) is a collaboration between senior, mid-level and junior scholars working together to conduct applied child development research focused on the positive development of Black children, committed to publishing research for policymakers to help dismantle education and health disparities. The network is dedicated to promoting the academic success of children to ensure that they thrive in educational and home environments.

​The RISER Network team works together to publish research unpacking how racism is an environmental context that drives health and education disparities specifically across the child development trajectory from prenatal to age eight, and is also focused on disseminating research knowledge to scholars and policymakers that is actionable, strengths-based and focused on wellness promotion. For more information about the RISER Network, please visit the group’s website at https://www.bu-ceed.org/riser-network, and follow the RISER Network on Twitter (@CeedBU and @FPGInstitute).


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