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COVID-19 pandemic shining a spotlight on deep racial inequalities

Professors available to comment on coronavirus impact on minorities

“The alarmingly high mortality rates in some locales that have been reported among African-Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic is once again shining a spotlight on the fact that America remains a society marked by deep racial inequalities,” says Northwestern University political scientist Alvin Tillery.

According to recent reports, African-Americans may be dying from COVID-19 at higher rates. For example, in Chicago 70% of people who died from COVID-19 are black even though the city’s population is approximately 30% black. Similar disparities are playing out across the country. 

In addition to Tillery, Northwestern professors in the areas of education and public policy, medicine and sociology are available to comment. 

To request an interview, connect with faculty directly using the contact information below, or email Hilary Hurd Anyaso at h-anyaso@northwestern.edu.

Interview the experts on COVID-19 health disparities

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Alvin B. Tillery Jr.

Associate professor of political science; director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy

Tillery's research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics.

“The reality is that African-Americans continue to have unequal life chances more than 50 years after the Kerner Commission proclaimed America to be ‘Two nations, one white, one black— separate and unequal.’ 

“The sad thing is that we are fully capable of fixing these inequalities, but we lack the political will to do it. Indeed, the Republican Party’s entire strategy for holding power is predicated on exploiting false narratives about how these inequalities came to be in order to appeal to their base voters, many of whom demonstrate very high levels of racial resentment. It will take some deep soul searching on the part of our leaders in both parties if we are going to prevent the next national crisis from replicating the tragedy that is playing out before our eyes during this pandemic.”

Celeste Watkins-Hayes

Professor of sociology and African American Studies; faculty fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health

Watkin-Hayes, author of "Remaking a Life: How Women with HIV/AIDs Confront Inequality," has written numerous articles in the areas of sociology, African American studies and public policy.

“COVID-19, like the HIV pandemic before it, has come to represent an injury of inequality. Injuries of inequality are produced by a comprised ability to protect oneself from physical or psychological harm due to economic and social inequity. Whether it is through the lack of access to ongoing preventive care that allow preexisting conditions to go unchecked, the heightened exposure to higher-risk environments that undermine even the most vigilant of protective behaviors, or any number of environmental and institutional constraints, injuries of inequality are the universal health risks that nevertheless find their way into our societal cracks and exploit them mercilessly.” 

Sally Nuamah

Assistant professor of urban politics in human development and social policy

Nuamah's research sits at the intersections of race, gender, education policy and political behavior.

“Home care and health care is gendered. When children are sick and the elderly need an extra hand, women, especially those who are black and brown, are on the frontlines. We need to make sure we include gender as part of our discussions on the disproportionate racial impacts of COVID on our communities.”

Michael Wolf

Associate vice chair for research in Northwestern's Department of Medicine; director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) — Center for Applied Health Research on Aging

Wolf's work focuses on the study of cognitive, psychosocial and health system factors that affect a person’s ability to successfully manage health.

“As we have seen in previous outbreaks of the flu in the United States, there are differences in how people respond and take action to prevent the spread of disease. Those who are poor or from racial or ethnic minority communities may perceive themselves less able to reduce their risk due to their current situation, or have understandable mistrust in our country’s public health response. Even more telling, is the literacy divide — we have examples of how adults with less education and lower literacy skills suffer the most from disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. And we are seeing this now play out again in front of us, especially since the ‘message’ to Americans is anything but clear.”