Trump’s $2 trillion will not shield minorities from coronavirus

Coronavirus does not provide a level playing field for the poor – and that is no shock to people of colour in the US.

New York City Coronavirus
Hospital staff arrive at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York, New York on March 26, 2020 [Peter Foley/EPA-EFE]

A two-trillion-dollar stimulus plan – aimed at mending the US economy during one of the most volatile pandemics the world has ever seen – was officially approved by Congress last week.

The largest economic rescue package in modern history will provide financial relief to taxpayers and their families, aid for hospitals, expanded unemployment benefits and loans for small businesses (larger companies would be granted government bailouts).

These efforts are essential for restoring some type of security for a scared and fragile population – a population that now has the most cases of coronavirus in the world.

However, the most scared and fragile communities in the US have always been people of colour.

We are suffering tremendously at the hands of COVID-19 and will continue to do so because of how the Trump administration has handled the crisis so far.

Just last month, the president initially called the Democrat and media response to the outbreak a “hoax” at a campaign rally in South Carolina, insisting that Democrats were “politicising” the severity of the virus as an attack on his leadership.

Trump also oversaw the dismantling of the pandemic unit at the National Security Council in 2018. This action, coupled with his constant denial of coronavirus as a major problem, prevented action crucial to stop coronavirus from spreading at such a rapid rate.

What happened in the weeks following his claim is endemic of a fractured capitalistic system riddled with racism and punishment for those without privilege.

When the Chinese origins of coronavirus became more widely known, it was quickly used to stigmatise Asian Americans. Trump has publicly referred to the disease as “foreign” or the “Chinese virus.”

His racist commentary has had menacing consequences, including a rise in violent incidents against Asian communities and discrimination against Asians in schools.

This type of xenophobia has been at the crux of Trump’s immigration and travel policies during his tenure in the White House.

The decline of Chinese businesses as a result of the vitriol they received served as a harbinger to a national crisis: the crumbling of America’s economic infrastructure.

As schools closed and businesses shuttered in the face of the pandemic, the divide separating who would survive it and who would not immediately became evident.

Testing kits for COVID-19 are scarce and when they do become available to the general public, cost and location will be huge factors to access.

Immigrants are at increased risk since they are more likely not to seek medical attention for fear of detention (coronavirus has already been used to justify stricter immigration policies). Undocumented workers are also not eligible to receive any benefits from the stimulus deal despite making up 5 percent of the US labour force.

Inmates in US prisons – of which a large proportion are black and Hispanic people – are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to being in a confined space. In New York State, they are forced to make hand sanitiser for civilians with no clarity about whether they can use it themselves.

For years, there has been report after report tracking the accumulation of wealth in white and non-white households. The glaring gap – due to institutional structures prioritising white wealth, as these reports conclude – has yet to be rectified and saturate every aspect of the economy.

When low-income communities are forced out of work due to a nationwide quarantine, they are stripped of their ability to buy basic necessities and pay the bills that still accumulate.

Conversely, those with essential positions (healthcare workers, service workers, cleaners, airport security agents) who cannot afford to leave their jobs risk added exposure. And, as we have seen, impoverished areas are more likely to have higher rates of infection due to residents already having underlying medical conditions and fewer resources.

When childcare centres and schools close, those same people are left wondering where the next meal for their child will come from.

There are 500,000 people in the US experiencing homelessness (consisting mostly of black and Hispanic people like the prison population) who are at double the risk of succumbing to and spreading coronavirus.

Native American tribes frequently lack resources and access to high-quality healthcare facilities (especially those living in rural areas) making COVID-19 significantly more difficult to deal with.

Health experts predict that the disease will get worse before it gets better – which means that the plight for people of colour will go from unbearable to downright inhumane.

As Trump insists that the economy must return to normal as soon as possible, he is solidifying the notion that human life is as valuable as the amount of labour tied to it.

Having Americans return to work before COVID-19 has been contained is not only heavily advised against; it is nefarious and will surely exacerbate distress for minorities.

Hospitals simply will not have the capacity to treat all of the patients who will come into contact with coronavirus and marginalised groups will not be treated as priorities.

The belief that people of colour are able to tolerate more pain than white folks has led to a disparity in healthcare; black mothers are still more than twice as likely to die during childbirth than white women.

As America sinks into its new reality, we must remember to advocate for people of colour who do not have the support, power or platforms to protect themselves from a life-threatening catastrophe.

Although memories tend to be short when it comes to acts of injustice, exactly how far are we from repeating what happened during Hurricane Katrina?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.