It is well documented that Black and other marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Rates of infection, hospitalization, and death are all higher for individuals who are Black compared to white. A new study led by Harvard Medical School examined how monetary reparations to the descendants of Africans enslaved in the US could have impacted rates of COVID-19 infections among Black individuals and for the broader communities.
Their analysis indicates that infection rates in Louisiana would likely have been 31 to 68 percent lower. That is community wide. So not only could it have helped reduce infections among Black individuals but also across the state.
I remember during my science undergrad we had discussions about the ethical responsibilities of scientists. Obviously, they need to follow ethical protocols for their research procedures but what about what happens to their research afterwards? There’s arguments that it isn’t the job of science to account for societal issues but the higher rates of COVID-19 infections among marginalized communities are just one example of why science can’t ignore the social context in which it operates. If it was just down to science then we might ignore the impacts of practices like redlining (where banks arbitrarily drew lines around certain communities deeming them as ineligible for loans like mortgages). The higher rates of COVID-19 infections in Black communities is not a scientific issue but science can raise awareness of the true causes.
In addition, science is too often used to try to justify discriminatory actions and policies. “We shouldn’t support girls to do math because their brains don’t work that way.” “Only certain people should be allowed to have children because everyone else will lower the genetic standard.” “Slavery is justified because their bodies are adapted for hard labour.” Science cannot stand idly by while it is misused to justify the systemic problems that continue to marginalize people.
There is a lot more to reparations than just handing out money but I appreciate this research that looked at what the very real, current day consequences are for everyone of the historical and modern day discrimination. This is not a science issue, it is a social one and like it or not, recognize it or not, science happens within the social system and is therefore influenced by it. But that position also means that science needs to actively fight against the systemic discrimination present in the very system that built it.