As the U.S. suffers under the influence of the global pandemic, communities of color have been disproportionally affected, seeing a higher number of deaths due to the virus despite a smaller percentage of the total population.
During a White House press briefing, President Donald Trump's hand selected Surgeon General Jerome Adams addressed minority communities, using language some have deemed offensive to urge individuals to be careful.
The current Surgeon General is an anesthesiologist who previously worked in the administration of then Governor Mike Pence. Adams had no public health experience when he was appointed by Pence in 2014.
Adams called on communities of color to heed the White House's advice, saying:
"Do it for your grand daddy. Do it for your big mama. Do it for your pop-pop."
Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams calls on communities of color to adhere to #coronavirus advice from Trump’s task force: “… https://t.co/CULugpmuwR— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake by Bloomberg)1586544478.0
Adams also used the term abuela advised communities of color to "avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs."
Hd failed to offer the same advice to White people.
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams says black, Latino & other people of color should "avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs… https://t.co/jzUqkfGTvX— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche Alcindor)1586543347.0
Though Adams was correct that minority communities are feeling the harshest effects of the pandemic, he failed to speak to the real reason this is so.
The coronavirus is killing black and Latino people in New York City at twice the rate that it's killing white peopl… https://t.co/cXv0phMcWU— NYT Graphics (@NYT Graphics)1586461298.0
Black Americans are dying from #COVID19 at disproportionate rates. That stems from historic inequality — hundreds o… https://t.co/dNdwZBgGOH— AJ+ (@AJ+)1586440984.0
Studies have shown that systemic inequalities, rather than any difference in behaviors, are to blame.
Inherent to #COVID19 - as in every epidemic - are issues of class, race, and equity. I cannot be more clear: altho… https://t.co/x8wNXEIIL1— Megan Ranney MD MPH (@Megan Ranney MD MPH)1586091332.0
Things like: - disproportionate representation in essential service jobs (unable to practice social distancing) - h… https://t.co/RrCEc3nJql— Megan Ranney MD MPH (@Megan Ranney MD MPH)1586092135.0
Adams described people of color as "socially predisposed" to contracting the virus.
US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says "it's alarming, but it's not surprising" that African Americans and Latino… https://t.co/hpXmjwI3lG— CNN Politics (@CNN Politics)1586546123.0
Journalists quickly pushed back against Adams' language.
Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, tells black people, Latinos and other ppl of color to avoid alcohol and drugs a… https://t.co/qlNekyvasz— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche Alcindor)1586543554.0
I asked U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams about asking black people, Latinos & other ppl of color to avoid drinkin… https://t.co/3NB5xP2EOU— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche Alcindor)1586545778.0
Not only did Adams statement utilize language some found offensive, it also failed to pinpoint the true reason communities of color are more at risk.
What does consuming alcohol, tobacco and drugs have to do with Coronavirus? Does “we need you to step up” mean th… https://t.co/qSSMG4wyGD— Touré (@Touré)1586548298.0
This is rhetoric steeped in racism. I realize that @JeromeAdamsMD is black, but the fact is that he gives cover her… https://t.co/vr53VpPRW9— Jamil Smith (@Jamil Smith)1586547063.0
All due respect to the Surgeon General, but 1) higher rates of asthma (a serious co-factor in COVID deaths) in blac… https://t.co/ntYUmXA6tL— Robert A George (@Robert A George)1586545567.0
"Socially predisposed" is a great way to gloss over the problems of structural inequality and systemic racism.
The Surgeon General articulated the problem of racial health disparities without addressing the underlying cause: s… https://t.co/CXPZLm4PDE— Geoff Bennett (@Geoff Bennett)1586545247.0
Won't repeat Surgeon General's words from presser today, but inequities that continue to be exposed through… https://t.co/gmBvSMDQgO— ilyseh (@ilyseh)1586544833.0
Black Americans drink significantly less than white Americans; studies of high-school seniors consistently have fou… https://t.co/QFrXnMpfLX— Shamus Khan (@Shamus Khan)1586545084.0
There were some who felt the Surgeon General should be given a pass on his mistake.
@tedlieu @Surgeon_General He immediately apologized and seemed sincerely disturbed and hurt that he’d said somethin… https://t.co/xkAVIR5PB1— wormpicker 🆘👿🍑💩 (@wormpicker 🆘👿🍑💩)1586548133.0
NOTE: You don't have to change the way you talk for people of color to listen. #CoronavirusPandemic https://t.co/3ffMhIBteU— Brie Jackson (@Brie Jackson)1586543738.0
Others used this opportunity to point out that scientific studies have repeatedly shown Black Americans don't drink or smoke at a higher rate than White Americans.
The Surgeon General later went on Twitter to try to do some damage control.
Let me be crystal clear - people of color are not biologically or genetically predisposed to get #COVIDー19, but the… https://t.co/YFCTHjPuBr— U.S. Surgeon General (@U.S. Surgeon General)1586543168.0
Diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma have historically disproportionately afflicted minority po… https://t.co/pYNk54K1ec— U.S. Surgeon General (@U.S. Surgeon General)1586543026.0
This data - this history - does NOT however have to be our nation’s future. We are taking steps now, in the midst… https://t.co/HbjIGEYH8Y— U.S. Surgeon General (@U.S. Surgeon General)1586543236.0
If we truly want to mitigate the effect of disease on minority communities, the systemic issues that worsen the impact of disasters such as this pandemic have to be addressed.