Why Is the Coronavirus Disproportionately Impacting Black Americans?

Last Updated: April 17, 2020

In the United States, cities and states are reporting alarming data that reveals that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting people who are black and, at least in New York City, Latinx people as well. In Chicago, black residents “are dying at a rate nearly six times greater than white residents,” and in Louisiana, “more than 70% of the people who have died are black, while African Americans only make up 32% of the state's population.” The CDC released data on April 8, 2020, which indicates that racial disparities in coronavirus hospitalizations are a nation-wide problem.

This Teaching Idea is designed to help students learn about this disturbing trend and explore the underlying causes of racial inequity in coronavirus outcomes. It includes student-facing Google Slides, which contain the following three activities:

  1. How is the coronavirus impacting black Americans?
  2. Why does the coronavirus impact communities differently?
  3. How can we create a more equal society?

The Slides are designed to be adaptable to both in-person and online instruction. Each activity contains reflection questions, to which students can respond in a variety of ways including individual written reflections, voice recordings using a tool like Flipgrid, or a synchronous class discussion.

Note to Teacher: Learning about the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on black communities may feel frightening and deeply personal for many students. Make sure to check in with students and give them opportunities to process and express any feelings learning about this topic may raise. In addition, some students may not have deep background knowledge of the policies that created racial segregation and discrimination. Consider sharing the video Segregated By Design (18 minutes) with your students to provide additional context.


What follows are the student-facing instructions for the three activities. The full activities can be found in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

Activity 1: How is the coronavirus impacting black Americans?

Look at the graph “African Americans by percentage of population and share of coronavirus deaths” in the Washington Post article The Coronavirus Is Infecting and Killing Black Americans at an Alarmingly High Rate.

Reflect:

  • What information can you learn from this graph?
  • What do you find surprising or troubling?
  • What questions does the information in this graph raise for you?

Activity 2: Why does the coronavirus impact communities differently?

This activity uses an iceberg diagram to help you learn more about the reasons why the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting black Americans. Look at this image of an iceberg:

A grayscale rendering showing an iceberg above and below the water line.

Reflect:

  • What are the characteristics of an iceberg?
  • How much of an iceberg is above water versus below water?

An iceberg diagram can help you think about the numerous underlying causes that give rise to an event. It’s often difficult to see these causes because they rest “beneath the surface.”

Read the first six paragraphs of the Vox article How racism and poverty made Detroit a new coronavirus hot spot. Stop reading when you reach the line “Residents, as well as health and elected officials, point to the city’s underlying inequalities as a reason.”

Next to the tip of the iceberg, write your answers to the question: What information does the article give about how the coronavirus is impacting black Americans?

Note: You can either draw an iceberg diagram on a piece of paper or respond in the space provided on the Slide.

Continue reading the Vox article How Racism and Poverty Made Detroit a New Coronavirus Hot Spot. Stop reading when you reach the heading “Measures that prevent the virus—hand-washing, social distancing—aren’t easy for residents without resources.”

In the bottom part of the iceberg (under water), write your answers to the questions:

  • What policies caused segregation and discrimination against people who are black in the United States?
  • How do these policies contribute to unequal health outcomes in black communities?

Activity 3: How can we create a more equal society?

The data on coronavirus infection and mortality rates in black communities have brought new attention to the larger problem of inequality. Read the Urban Institute’s article COVID-19 Racial Health Disparities Highlight Why We Need to Address Structural Racism. If you’d like to go deeper, choose one of the policies linked in the article to research, for example:

Reflect:

  • What would this policy change?
  • How could this policy help to promote equality?
  • What are the potential drawbacks of this policy?
  • How could this policy help to improve equality in health in the United States?

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