Survey: Despite Pandemic, Many Don’t See Systemic Racism as Barrier

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the disparities impacting communities of color.

Not only has COVID-19 led to a disproportionate number of deaths and severe illness among Latinos, but it has also contributed to financial struggles, homelessness, and students falling behind in school.

These disparities are linked with discrimination and impact Latinos throughout their lives, according to a Salud America! research review.

But despite the evidence, many Americans don’t see systemic racism as the cause of the inequity.

A survey by the RAND Corporation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that only 42% of respondents think that systemic racism is one of the main reasons people of color face health inequities. The majority does not believe or feel neutral about systemic racism being the cause.

However, more than 70% of Latino and Black people surveyed felt that the pandemic could be a moment for positive change in society.

Let’s take a look at the findings from the survey and how they compare to evidence of systemic racism and the disproportionate effect on Latinos.

What the RAND and RWJF Survey Showed about Systemic Racism

With support from RWJF, the Rand Corporation surveyed over 4,000 people living in lower- and middle-income households with an oversample of Latino, Black, and Asian people. The survey aimed to discover “attitudes, views and values toward health, equity, civic engagement and systemic racism during COVID-19.”

The survey was conducted in two parts, first gathering data in October 2020 and then again in January 2021. The groups are conducting a third follow up survey to be released in spring 2021, followed by a final survey conducted in the summer of 2021.

The survey showed many key findings about opinions on equity during the pandemic.

The findings include:

  • Less than half (42.2%) of respondents believe that systemic racism is one of the main reasons people of color have poorer health outcomes
  • Latino and Black respondents are more likely (68.5%) to have more cautious views around taking health risks to move about freely compared to white respondents (53.4%)
  • Latino and Black respondents are slightly more likely (72.5%) than white respondents (69.3%) to believe that the pandemic is a moment for positive change.
  • Most non-white respondents (74.1%) believe the government should ensure health care as a fundamental right.
  • About half of Latino respondents (53.6%) report little to no trust in government.

Authors of the survey found the results remarkable, expecting more people to link systemic racism and the pandemic.

“It really struck us that—despite the virus’s spread across the country to all types of communities—there’s not a consensus view on the effects of systemic racism. Respondents see the impact of low incomes and living in a rural community on a person’s health, but race isn’t viewed with the same gravity,” said Katherine Grace Carman, senior economist at RAND Corporation and the lead author of the report, according to a RAND press release.

Researchers support the calls to action for more government support in health care.

“We share the respondents’ demand for better access to health care and also advocate for policies that can help from an economic point of view, such as safe and affordable housing, access to healthy food, and access to jobs that pay a living wage,” said Brian Quinn, associate vice president of the Research-Evaluation-Learning unit at RWJF, according to a RAND press release.

This research gives insight into how vulnerable communities can be assisted, according to Quinn.

“Research like this is so important because we need to hear firsthand from the people and places most impacted so we can advance policy solutions that increase opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible,” Quinn said.

How Does Systemic Racism and Discrimination Affect Latinos?

Even before the pandemic, systemic racism and discrimination have hurt Latinos and other people of color.

“Racial/ethnic discrimination impacts educational attainment, which, in turn, impacts future educational, health, social, and career opportunities for Latinos and other people of color,” according to a Salud America! research review.

In turn, lower educational attainment has resounding effects on Latinos, such as:

  • Higher risk of institutionalization
  • Poorer physical and mental health
  • Higher risk of dependence on social services
  • Reduced lifetime earning/economic potential

These inequities will not go away by themselves. Education and equitable policies are the key, researchers say.

“Our leaders need to understand that we have a lot more work to do to educate people about the root causes of inequities and then enact policies to ensure better health for all,” Carman said, according to the RAND press release.

How Can I Help Address Systemic Racism?

Leaders should take the opportunity of the COVID-19 pandemic to enact equitable change, as most Latinos hope will occur.

If you want to advocate for change on an individual level, we encourage you to share our Health Equity Report Card.

Download a customized Salud America! Health Equity Report Card to see how many of your neighbors face inequities in food access, education, income, health care, and much more.

Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to give resources where help is needed most.


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