At the coronavirus briefing yesterday, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams addressed the issue of racial disparity when it comes to deaths from Covid-19.
He urged people of colour to practice social distancing, given figures show they are disproportionately likely to develop complications which result in death from the virus.
Adams originally suggested that the disparity was down to social inequality, saying:
We do not think people of colour are biologically of genetically predisposed to get Covid-19. But they are socially at risk to coronavirus exposure.
However he then went on to say that it's due to African Americans having a higher risk of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
But it was his suggestion for how to address this that raised concern. After reiterating the standard social distancing advice, he said:
Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Call your friends and family. Check in on your mother, she wants to hear from you right now.
And speaking of mothers, we need you to do this if not for yourself, then for your abuela, do it for your granddadddy, do it for your 'big momma', do it for your pop-pop.
We need you to understand, especially in communities of colour, we need you to step up.
This statement confused people because Adams had just stated that people of colour were more likely to have jobs which don't allow them to work from home.
More importantly, it seemed to contradict his statement – and the widely acknowledged reality – that people of colour are socially disadvantaged, leading to a higher death toll. Systemic racial inequality is to blame for these deaths, not individuals' actions, which there is no evidence to suggest is linked to race.
In Chicago, it was reported about 72 per cent of the Covid-19 death toll has been among black people even though the community makes up 30 per cent of the city’s population.
Similarly, in Louisiana, 72 per cent of deaths were among black people, who make up about 32 per cent of the state’s population.
People were quick to call out the problem with this kind of comment.
The use of racially charged language also raised eyebrows.
In the moment, Adams was asked about his choice of words, and said it was in reference to what he called his family members. But people took offence at the implication that he would have to change the way he speaks in order to address people of different ethnicities.
All in all, it was not a good look for an official appointed by the Trump administration.