Video: Structural Racism and COVID19: The Political Divide & Re-Opening Society

Event Recap

Friday, June 26, 2020

At a time when the pandemic is being politicized, a panel of UC Berkeley scholars called on Friday for bridging among different social and racial groups to help recognize their common interests and to emerge from COVID-19 more unified.

During the livestreamed Berkeley Conversations event, “Structural Racism and COVID19: The Political Divide, Re-Opening the Society and Health Impacts on People of Color,” the panelists urged public health officials and academic researchers to collaborate with community members to help build trust in institutions and to build more positive health outcomes.

“As we’re dealing with the polarized nature of a lot of what’s going on, it’s important that we listen to all sides, similar to how we need to listen to communities, listen more to marginalized groups, and make sure we do not have an elitist approach to what we’re doing,” said Mahasin Mujahid, associate professor of epidemiology.

Mujahid added that significant racial disparities in COVID-19 casualties dramatically highlights the structural racism fueling these inequities.

Cristina Mora, co-director of the Institute for Governmental Studies, shared data that revealed significant differences of opinion among Californians from different racial backgrounds and political leanings over questions about the threats posed by COVID-19.

The data found that politically left-leaning people and people of color were more concerned about the pandemic than white people and conservatives, but also that race was a stronger driver in people’s responses than politics.

“In some analyses, we found that even the most liberal whites expressed less concern about COVID-19 than some of our most conservative Black and Latinx respondents,” Mora said.

A likely explanation for that finding, she said, was that people of color are far more likely to be exposed to the virus because of the type of work they do.

Othering & Belonging Institute Director john a. powell said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the moment because of some positive trends he’s observed. He cited incidents where Republican officials were rolling back the reopening of parts of their economies due to surges in virus cases.

He said different groups have to be deliberate about building and strengthening bridges with one another and bring in as many people as possible for the sake of developing empathy for others.

“A couple years ago, people would say we would never unite unless there was some galactic enemy. Like, maybe the Martians would come, and we would all unite against the Martians. And then COVID-19 happened,” said powell. “It’s not a Martian, but it’s pretty close.”

Interview Transcript

Denise Herd: Hello. I'm Denise Herd, I'm the Associate Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, and a professor in the School of Public Health. This are the two organizations sponsoring this event. It's my pleasure to welcome you into our session, Structural Racism and COVID-19, the Political Divide, Reopening the Society and Health Impacts on People of Color. Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge and thank the Ohlone people for allowing us to shelter and place, and work at UC Berkeley on their beautiful land.

Denise Herd: This morning session is, as we are now past a hundred days of sheltering and in place in the Bay Area, and the society is reopening, we're facing new surges in cases of COVID-19, as we discussed on our first panel on structural racism and COVID-19, people of color are bearing the brand of cases and deaths of this infection. These include Latin X, African American and native American populations. At the same time, extreme partisan differences are emerging, in what people perceive as a face of reopening and also in using masks and social distancing.

Denise Herd: Part of George Floyd, there were armed protests in places like Michigan being staged against sheltering and place orders. Despite the new spikes in Coronavirus cases, recent news indicate that wearing masks has become a flash point for divisions all across America. For example, in Orange County. The Chief Health Officer recently resigned after receiving death threats from her county wide mass quarter. On social media, dueling hashtags have emerged regarding wearing masks. #maskorthecasket for those who are pro masks, and #nomaskday for those who want to do without.

Denise Herd: Our panelists today will be discussing these issues and their effects on the disease among the people of color. They will be looking at what measures are needed to deal with the pandemic among people of color, and what kind of public policies are needed to protect their health. And as we acknowledged in earlier discussions, if the underlying pandemic is one of racism, what kind of social measures and policies are needed to stop this pandemic?

Denise Herd: And finally, panelists will consider what we need to do to heal this political and social differences. I'm joined by a great interdisciplinary panel of experts, all of them are professors at UC Berkeley, and all of them are members of the Othering and Belonging Institute. First we have with us Cristina Mora. Cristina is Associate Professor of Sociology and Chicano/Latino Studies by courtesy. She's also the Co-Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, and a member of the Diversity and Democracy Cluster at the Othering and Belonging Institute. Professor Mora's research mainly focuses on questions of racial and ethnic categorization, organizations and immigration. Her book, Making Hispanics, was published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press, and provides a social, historical account of the rise of the Hispanic/Latino pan ethnic category in the United States.

Denise Herd: And next we have Mahasin Mujahid. Mahasin is Associate Director of Public Health, and the Chancellor is Professor of Public Health. She's also a member of the Health Disparities Cluster in the Othering and Belonging Institute. As a Social Epidemiologist, Mahasin uses interdisciplinary and community based approaches to investigate racial, ethnic and place based health disparities. Her primary area of research examines the role of neighborhood environments in cardiovascular health. Dr Mujahid is currently the principal investigator of the Social Determinants Core for a large NIH funded cohort study on rural health, which will enroll 4600 participants in Apalatia and the Mississippi Delta.

Denise Herd: And finally we're pleased to welcome John Powell. John is the Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute here at UC Berkeley. He holds the Robert D Haas Chancellor's chair in Equity and Inclusion, and is a professor of Law, African American Studies and Ethnic Studies here at the university. Professor Powell is an internationally recognized expert in the area of civil rights, civil liberty, structural racism, housing, poverty and democracy. He's the author of several books including his most recent work, Racing To Justice, transforming our concept of self and other to build an inclusive society.

Denise Herd: So today's format will include conversation by our panelists, followed by a Q and A from our Facebook audience. And audience members can submit questions through Facebook that the panelists will address in about the last 10 minutes or so of our session today.

Denise Herd: And so, now we'd like to start the conversation with our panelists, and to start off, results from poll data in California, that Cristina Mora's been analyzing, show that attitudes of California voters are deeply divided about the COVID-19 pandemic. With supporters of President Trump less worried about infecting others and more about the economy. So Cristina can you tell us a little bit about your poll and provide some highlights of political differences regarding COVID-19, that your research has shown.

Cristina Mora: Yeah, sure. First thank you very much for having the panel and for inviting me here. It's exciting to be here. The Institute of Governmental Studies in conjunction with The California Institute on Health Equity and Access run through the Department of Public Health, fielded what is the largest California State wide poll on perceptions of COVID back in April. This was roughly almost a month after Governor Newsom instituted shelter and place orders across the state.

Cristina Mora: So in many ways this is a relatively early period in what is now an on going pandemic. Our findings provided an early snapshot, so you might think of it as some totally unprecedented chaotic new form of organize in life. And for many, the first real large scale public health issue that they had to face at this large scale. And so what our findings show is basically two main drivers of perceptions of COVID.

Cristina Mora: On the one hand, we show this incredibly large political divide, whereas political world views, whether you define as party, tropo-proval, or whether people call themselves conservative or liberal, really drives the way they thought, their perceptions of COVID.

Cristina Mora: Mainly Republican and Trump supporters were significantly like, in some cases a third is likely, in some cases a quarter is likely to think that COVID presented a real threat. Not only to themselves, significantly less likely the liberals, not only to themselves but to their family members, to their personal health, to their economic well being. And there are many ways and channels for these. One way is that Republicans and conservatives were significantly less likely to express trust in the CDC, the WHO, than were Democrats and liberals. And so what we saw are really the wide spread political polarization that exit in the United States, was mapped on really quickly to the perceptions of the pandemic.

Cristina Mora: The other incredibly significant driver of COVID perception was race. And this we tend to think about it in two ways. One is, race/perceptions of COVID, especially blacks and Latin X population were much more likely to record that they feared getting COVID, that they feared unknowingly spreading it to others, that they feared that their family members would catch COVID, that COVID posed a serious health and economic risk.

Cristina Mora: So these perceptions were much more felt amongst people of color than amongst whites. But one part id the perception, but we also had measures of condition, the lived realities. And we also found that in that case people of color were much more at risk or much more in positions where they were being exposed to COVID.

Cristina Mora: So one example is, we ran a question where we asked people, amongst the people employed are you able to work safely from home? And we found a 20 point spread difference. It was something like 60% of white responded and said yes, I'm working and I can work from home. Only 40% of the Latin X population could also say that. That's a huge difference. Because we know that leaving the home, and leaving the home to go to work can put you at risk of catching COVID.

Cristina Mora: Various other measures. Among the people working, it was mainly blacks and Latinos that expressed concern that their employer was not providing them enough proper PPE to do their work safely. Blacks and Latinos were much more likely to say that they feared, not for themselves going out and working, but for their family members. So you can imagine even if they might be able to work from home or were not working from home, they were likely to report spouses, parents, brothers and sisters, siblings, that were going out for which they feared exposure.

Cristina Mora: So in a variety of ways, we may think that the exposure also mapped on. This is not just an issue of who is more afraid, but it's also a real issue of who is more exposed and how that maps on to risk. And one more thing to think about the racial difference is, we might think of perceptions of COVID as being mainly about health, but as you mentioned Denise, it's also about your economic safety, right? And we found there was an incredible large ratio gap with blacks and Latin X populations, much more likely to say that they fear that COVID has impacted their ability to cover their basic needs.

Cristina Mora: So we're not talking about COVID's impacts on savings or 401 (k), we're talking about food and rent and basic needs. And this certainly came through in our data as well. And thinking about the condition and the perceptions, further analysis shows that if we break down some of the political data, so politics is driving it and race is driving it. Race seems to be a much larger driver. In some analysis we found that even the most liberal whites still express less concern about COVID than some of our most conservative black and Latin X respondents.

Cristina Mora: So that tells you something about the baseline of risk and what we're looking at here.

Denise Herd: Okay. Well, Cristina, thank you so much for those points. And now I was wondering if any other panelist, Mahasin maybe, could also talk about what they've observed in terms of racial differences in perceptions of COVID and in, yeah, in perceptions of COVID.

Mahasin Mujahid: Yeah. So the data that Cristina just mentioned I think are really important for us to understanding how COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting different populations. And from the perspective of the black population, I think their perceptions about reopening and what that might mean for themselves and for their families id really driven by their experience with COVID-19. Not only in relation to, as Cristina just mentioned, the social and the economic experiences, but also in the direct experiences of knowing a family member that has had COVID-19, having someone in your family or in your close network dying from COVID-19.

Mahasin Mujahid:
In fact, blacks were three times more likely to have someone they know personally and close to them die than the national average. So those concerns are also driving some of the perceptions around reopening and whether reopening is safe for them.

Mahasin Mujahid: I think the other thing that influences the perceptions around COVID-19 and reopening, for blacks, is thinking about the timing in which states began to reopen with the timing of data showing that COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting them. For example, the state of Georgia released their plans to reopen right after there was information released that in the state of Georgia that blacks represented 83% of the COVID related hospitalization. And so this idea that, if we are disposable then reopening isn't a problem because it's going to affect us the most. And so I think also drives some of the concerns for blacks in terms of what's going to happen in the era of reopening.

Mahasin Mujahid: And then the final thing that I'll say is just to remind people that, as Cristina mentioned, blacks are less likely, in other marginalized groups, are less likely to be able to in-shelter in the first place. And so this idea that we didn't have the same luxury or benefits to in-shelter, and so we're not only this "essential workers" but we are also disposable. And si I think that those are two very difficult things to reconcile when there is now, all of a sudden, concern about personal responsibility in the era of reopening and who's doing what, when certain groups were never afforded the best protection that we had at that time, which was in-sheltering.

Denise Herd: Okay. Well, thank you both so much. One of the things that I noticed when I was looking at one of the papers that Cristina's group published was that, on the one hand ethic minorities are suffering more economically. And so sheltering in place, and this kind of measures are hurting them. On the other hand, they are more likely to embrace the importance of protecting themselves against COVID-19 and thinking that this is a very serious issue. Can you just comment on that?

Cristina Mora: Sure. There's much less variants. So if you think about, as Mahasin just said, they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. It's, my economic livelihood, my life, right? And even as they feel the branch of that, they are still not the ones outside the governor's office clamoring for things to open. They're making decisions right now, largely about their personal health safety. Even though the economic fall out of this is likely to affect them more.

Cristina Mora: So if I just think about, in the Latin X population, the large amount of Latinas that work in restaurant kitchens, that work as hotel maids, that work in domestic service, all of that, on the one hand, this population, if you look at Latinas in that population, are in this really economically vulnerable situation right now. And if you are undocumented you don't have the CARES Act money to help.

Cristina Mora: And if you're just, by virtue of being black or Latino in this country, you don't have the wealth or the savings to see you through this. On the other hand if you look at Latinos, they are also the ones that are in the fields, agricultural workers, right? That are working in meat parking plants, and so we see that health exposure there. There's no win here, largely. And so at the very least what our data shows is, right now they are... Or at the moment the data was collected, they're making political decisions. Their policy and perceptions are about staying alive and staying healthy first. And then thinking about this second aspect later.

Denise Herd: Okay. Well, thank you so much for that. Another question for the panelists is whether or not you think political and racial division and these attitudes are being affected by the protest against police violence since the George Floyd murder? For example, there was some recent news reports that conservatives are upset that the protesters weren't arrested and fined for not wearing masks and for not social distancing. And they're not allowed to open churches or open businesses. And there have been statements like, that was a noble cause. Whereas, our protest against sheltering in place wasn't viewed like... Do you think that the divisions that we've been talking about have been exacerbated by these kinds of sentiments being expressed among conservatives primarily?

Denise Herd: Anyone on the panel want to respond to that?

john a. powell: Yeah, me. So I think what's happening in the country is very fluent, and things are changing very fast. The other panel all know, since a number of states have started opening up, we're seeing a resurgence across, and especially across the South and the West, which were not the hard hit places initially. Even though as the South and the West is still more urbanized than rural. Part of what's going on, of course is that, how people think of this is that they're taking cues from their leaders. And so you have, essentially the White House stopped having hearings or stopped having daily reports on COVID weeks ago. They basically said we're done with this.

john a. powell: And so, from the White House, there's this constant attack on people of color, on immigrants. Just constant. So you expect that to be reflected in their base. For example, if you think about both the church issue and the demonstration issues for opening, Trump expressed support for that. The Attorney General, Barr, talked about suing states to force them to open up churches. And so it's not something that peace will help people have these positions, I think. When people look to Trump, they don't trust the government, many conservatives, but they do trust Trump.

john a. powell: And so he's been telling them, first of all he started off, "It's not real. It's a hoax, it's going to go away." Even the idea of drinking bleach. We had people drinking bleach. My guess is most of them were conservative. So it's not people just arriving at these positions themselves. What leaders say, defunding WHO, all of these things matter in terms of how people make sense of this. In addition, I think what's happening now is with the resurgence. You start to see a crack or break in some of the conservative opposition to taking this measure seriously.

john a. powell: So you had the governor of Texas coming out, saying they're starting to close down bars and other things. So one interesting thing or a nice thing or even nice thing, you could say, is that the spread of the pandemic is not as sensitive to our rhetoric. We said we don't like it, we don't believe in it. So that's not a criteria for whether or not you get an infection. So I think you're going to see, as people get infection in this, both Mahasin and Cristina made clear, it is also personal. It's like if I don't know anyone that's been affected then it's easier to actually have the distance.

john a. powell: An at one point there was a survey looking at, among conservatives, Trump supporters in particular, how they responded to this surge in New York, did that create additional empathy? The short answer is no. So in this case people believed it, they thought people are getting sick, they thought people were dying. And this was not even particularly just racial, although it was racial because New York is a very diverse city. But it was like, "We don't care." We, those strong Trump supporters, don't care if there was a curve in people get COVID and die.

john a. powell: And it reminds of what is happening in AIDS. At one point AIDS was seen as something affecting the gay community, and a lot of this argued that it was God's cleansing. And in fact there was one police officer, I think in New Orleans, who was, Louisiana, who was fired, basically said he hoped COVID takes, basically wipes out the entire minority community. So there's a complicated set of things going on. Belief, disbelief, who's infecting, and that shifting.

john a. powell: Some of the church leaders have come out and apologized for being such hardened supporters of opening up when their congregation have gotten people sick. So it's very fluid and I think the thing with George Floyd complicates things again. Because the vast majority of Americans support the protests. 94% of Americans suggested that police reform is needed. Then a suggest they support disbanding the police. But 94% means that we're actually racking a lot of white conservatives rural as well. And as we see, Trump's support, even in terms of his base, is actually softening.

john a. powell: So I think, Cristina made a point that her survey was in April, but this is a different world in July.

Denise Herd: Right. Well, thank you John for those comments. And I'm hoping that we do see less polarization. But I have been really surprised by it. Just at the beginning of this week, not wearing a mask has become an important identity of individuality. And people that seem to be focusing on real American values. And this is playing out at the same time that we're seeing these new surges. But I wanted to now refocus the panel a little bit and ask in terms.

john a. powell: Can I just. I wrote a piece about this and remember that, so I think the people were arguing for the right to infect other people and wear a mask. Those aren't real American values. American values are contesting, and this contestation is built around concept of freedom and concept of equality. And a concept of freedom as a personal right and a slave right. In terms of slavery, people argued about the right, the freedom to actually own slaves. But there is also the right of everyone to be free.

john a. powell: So are there people associating themselves with those values? Can we call those real American values? It's just, those are essentially, many of those values are associated with the rights of whites to dominate people of color. The right of whites to hurt. But there's also American values that was actually strongly opposed to that, Gettysburg address.

Denise Herd: Right. Thank you for that. And I think you point to some very real issues that need more exploration. Because yes, what are real American values? Is personal liberty when it's hurting other people? Is that what we want to espouse to as a society? So those are great critical questions that need more thought and probably a lot more research.

Denise Herd: I did want to turn now, to looking at what the new surges mean and what these political divisions mean for the health of people of color. As you said, July is a new place in terms of the state of the epidemic. And we first saw a lot of increases among people of color. We saw very high rates of disparities. And so what are we looking at right now in terms of the status of ethnic minorities in COVID-19?

Mahasin Mujahid: Oh, Cristina did you want to go?

Cristina Mora: You can go Mahasin.

Mahasin Mujahid: Okay. So I would just say that the status unfortunately, this is a new day in terms of a lot of things, and not in terms of COVID-19 and the impact on people of color in the United States. So we still have the same kinds of disparities that we saw early on that began to be reported at the beginning of April. Those disparities have not gone away now that we have more and more data that's recording based on race and ethnicity, and now that we have those "surge" in new cases. They are still disproportionately affecting communities of color. With being said, I think what we are seeing though, is that there are more threats that are emerging for people of color.

Mahasin Mujahid: So one example of that is the threat of wearing a mask. If we think about despite the fact that wearing a mask can place people of color at harm, they are still more likely to wear it. So there is data, not data but there is a lot of accounts of what happens when you are black while wearing a mask. And it is a equally bad situation on both sides of the coin. If you wear a mask then you are a threat. If you don't wear a mask, you are targeted, and that targeting can be coupled with police violence.

Mahasin Mujahid: And in fact we saw that in Pennysylvenia, where the transportation authority in South Eastern Pennsylvania had the police called on an African American male who was riding the bus and I think something like 10 police officers violently removed him because he was not wearing a mask. And so that has caused a lot of outrage in terms of this risk of wearing a mask as we think about re entering. And the idea is that, what this is uncovering is that the ways in which structural racism is fueling, not only COVID-19, but just inequities in this country are playing out. And so we're seeing that play out in relation to COVID-19 as well.

Mahasin Mujahid: I think another example of this is, you mentioned before, about police violence and the protest in response to that. And what we know is that the American Public Health Association as an example, has labeled police violence as a major public health crisis at the same weight as COVID-19 as a major public health crisis. And in fact, they had to come out with a statement condemning police violence at these peaceful protests. And so, instead of making a statement to say, "We're concerned about protesters and not using PPE and social distancing," they instead had to come out with a statement condoning the use of violence among law enforcement at these protests.

Mahasin Mujahid: So I think we're seeing right now, the ways in which intersections are coming together around structural racism, police violence, COVID-19 disruption, but not just that, but other health outcomes in marginalized communities. It's all coming to a heat right now. And that's what we're seeing play out.

Cristina Mora: Yeah. The one thing that I would add to that, if you're just looking at the data, we're seeing evidence in art so I just run the pole pretty regularly. So we have this ability to ask some of the same questions over time. And If something happens in society we can pause it that the affect of X on this outcome.

Cristina Mora: We ran some questions in September about what Californians think about diversity, whether it's a positive for California? What they think about immigration. And we're finding evidence that the pandemic. Especially COVID, has a dampened support and enthusiasm for ideas like, immigration is a positive value for California, diversity is an advantage in California.

Cristina Mora: So there is some sense in which, and this we couple with all of the accounts that already exist about anti Asian sentiments. But there is this sense also during a pandemic, in which the fear of what is out there, the fear of getting sick and being at risk can also inhibit, can also be translated and exacerbated, systemic bias that already exists. It can bring those ideas, fearful of others, these processes of othering to the former. At least that's what we're seeing in our data for sure. Even in a place like California.

Denise Herd: Okay. Well, thank you both for those really important comments. And I wanted to switch a little bit to think about, in terms of reopening the society, what kind of conditions would make it safe in terms of, not just, when we think of a narrow public health perspective, but a social perspective, since we've been talking about racism as a pandemic. What kind of social measures need to be in place before we can safely reopen?

john a. powell: One thing we have to do with both the pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racism, and I think it's not even just, we have to be clear and I think deliberate in terms of focusing attention on the communities that are most at risk. Both in terms of the police and in terms of COVID. And so, for example, I was on a call early today and I talked about, we shouldn't have to think that we're going to have the police do that, maybe we shouldn't have to do that at all. We're going to have the police actually approach people about not wearing a mask, that they should offer to give them a mask or ask them why they don't have a mask instead of arresting them or instead of giving them a ticket.

john a. powell: So if they're going to be public health workers, that's what they should do. I'm not convinced that they could do that, I'm not convinced that they can make that switch from policing to public health. And so if they can't then I suggest as we open up we need to have a deescalated form of people approaching other people. And some people are aggressive, I'm sure you saw the thing in Walmart where the guy fought his way into Walmart without a mask. And even before I read the story I knew he was white. Because if a black person tried to fight their way into Walmart we would be reading about another person being killed or beat up by the police.

john a. powell: But I also think that we have to have a new narrative. When the data started coming out, and we actually pushed for the data in Michigan and in other places. When the data started coming out about how this was disproportionately affecting white people, we were also worried that the data would be the narrative switch. It is their fault on the contrary and we don't care. So it's like this thing of actually lifting up the data, this proportionality and the same time keeping this as a national problem that all of us should care about.

john a. powell: We haven't touched on it, but also, Cristina alluded to it, about the anti Asian phenomena. Which is not associated so much with infection here in the United States. But it's again, the whole thing of referring to this virus as somehow coming from China and implicating both Chinese governments, but more importantly in our talk, the Chinese people. So you're saying rising a tax on Asians. To me this is just a deep play book that this country have of selecting and targeting racialized populations, or any of these woes. And again, I think there's a crack in that, but I think we have to really focus on that. And we can't expect support or help from Washington, I think presumably from the White House.

john a. powell: And I think helping people to navigate this, and you won't get everyone, but I think there are people who are soft to try and make sense of it who would be of influence. But also, like I said, specific interventions. So if blacks are disproportionate I terms of infection, then shouldn't they be disposed in terms of testing. But then you have the problem of, do you trust the testers? Then we have hospitals and ventilators.

john a. powell: So it's hard to actually figure out how to actually effectively address the COVID pandemic without also addressing pandemic in the racist history.

Cristina Mora: I think part of that, and added to that is, I think you are absolutely right John, with the narrative. And I think we're not explicit or our state leaders, even the sympathetic state leaders that are in California or at the local level, explicit about there is a narrative that exists. And the narrative that exists is that you are getting COVID because of your own individual cultural practices. Has nothing to know sense about structural inequality or structural racist history that makes some communities more at risk than others.

Cristina Mora: And I think there's this underlying thing that we just haven't addressed. This sense also, do we see health as a right? That we should collectively engage in each other's good health and well being? Or is health a product of such individual practices? You have a bad diet, you didn't do this, you didn't do that, right? I take care of my own health versus health is a community good. And I think we don't have that and explicit conversation of these thinking, about people being at risk because of their own fault, their own damn fault versus this systemic inequalities at this level that come out of these conversations at the local level. And I'm talking like local public health authorities and things like that, where they're really seeing the pattern in our city and in our community as historical.

Cristina Mora: Thus, our commitment, our ability to overcome this is not just about thinking about this individually, but thinking about this as a community.

john a. powell: I'd like to say one other thing.

Denise Herd: I was going to see if Mahasin had something to say.

john a. powell: Well the benefits, potentially, of the pandemic is that it spreads, right? So it's like, it's not simply if I have it, do I about my health, but do I have a right to infect other people? So potentially it forces us to think beyond the individual. For some people that's going to be very difficult. But that's how the virus works. It's not just, I'm I getting infected, but I'm in contact with my family, potentially with my students, and all the essential workers, the people are disproportionately people of color, and they do have contact with non essential workers, including whites.

Denise Herd: So Mahasin, did you want to chime in on some of these?

Mahasin Mujahid: Yeah. I would just add that I think that the timing of the fact that you had, coming out of COVID-19, in sheltering, where people had the most pause that they have had in the past several years in terms of direct attention to what was coming out of the media and being able to witness and watch the very public police killings of black men is that now people are circling back to change the narrative around COVID-19.

Mahasin Mujahid: I remember when we first started having our initial conversations, our straight talk, the reason why we felt compelled to do it was because so much of the narrative was around blaming the individuals on personal responsibility and how underlying health condition's awry, blacks are dying more from COVID-19. And what the protests have done is to call out an explicit call for an anti racism framework for the conditions of not only blacks but other marginalized populations and how its playing out in every aspects of our lives. And so now you see the narrative shifting around COVID-19 to naming, how is racism operating in relation to COVID-19. Not saying that narrative didn't exist before, but it was definitely not the dominant narrative. And so I think that this is closing the loop on that and actually highlighting the ways in which racism is playing out, not only in relation to COVID-19 but in relation to the police killings.

Mahasin Mujahid: So we do have a moment we're moving forward, actually address, you were asking, sorry, what do we need to be thinking about? We need to be thinking about the ways which racism is playing out. And so, our response to that has to consider that, right? What is the unintended consequences on black and marginalized populations when we do X, Y or Z. And when we implement X, Y or Z policy in relation to reopening and other kinds of measures. How do we rebuild safety nets knowing that because of a system of racism and the structuring of opportunity in this country, that the safety nets of the most vulnerable populations have been dismantled. And what kind of additional resources are they going to need to at least rebuild initial safety net and make it actually adequate to survive these kinds of pandemics and other crises.

Mahasin Mujahid: So I think we are in a moment where we are being much more exclusive about naming racism and understanding how it is playing out, and how it has to play out in our response, to not only COVID, but other crises that we're going through currently.

Denise Herd: Those are really excellent points, and thank you all for sharing them. I now wanted to talk a little bit about the need for trying to bridge some of these divisions that we've been talking about. If we have this huge partisan difference, this huge racial difference in attitudes towards COVID and attitudes towards infecting others. How do we begin to bridge those differences, to be more inclusive? Because it's apparent that if we don't as a society, then we're not going to be able to deal with these pandemics. Maybe John might want to lead us off on that.

john a. powell: Well, that's a really important question. A couple of years ago people would say we were never united unless there was some galactic enemy. Maybe the martians would come. Earth unite against the martians. And then COVID 19 happened, it's not martians, well it's pretty close. Can we unite in terms of what's happening? And there was this early talk about whether this is the equalizer, and I wrote a short piece saying, "Not so fast, it" going to affect us differently because we're situated differently." And you're getting some of that. And the demonstrations, as Mahasin suggested, an uprising help, I even think the thing with Emmy Cooper and George Floyd, is sort of a book end in both of our tragedies, one of the different order.

john a. powell: But it also gave America a peak into the lives of black people and the attitudes of white people. And to the majority of people it was shocking. And so, I think it opens up that possibility, and now, how do we actually seize it? And I think part of it is bridging. And bridging requires, really, listening to each others stories, understanding each others suffering, and understanding our shared hope for the future. It's not there, and frankly a lot of people who had thought about race are... If you quoted New York Times best seller, I think the five best sellers are all about race. Everybody is desperately trying to figure out what race...

john a. powell: Literally I had a conversation, there's a conservative white guy who was saying, he didn't say it but I imagine he was a Trump supporter, and he was saying, "I really thought racism was done." And watching George Floyd and this guy kneel on him for eight minutes and 46 seconds, that's just wrong. That's not the country that I'm proud of. And this is a conservative, he was shaken by this. And you think, "Well, there've been a lot of police killers, so why this one?" It's not entirely clear.

john a. powell: But I do think there's this opening, so how we tell the story, and then actually build out from there, how do we actually then take that into our processes and practices. Like in Berkeley right now, we've been arguing for years about should we have SATs? Okay, we're not going to have mandatory SATs. That opens up a whole bunch of things. We've been arguing for years that we should reconsider 2009, the legislature just said, "Okay, we should reconsider 2009." So, a lot of things are on table now. And I think one of the things, in terms of bridging, that would be tricky, people who came to the party late, to not push them away.

john a. powell: There will be a lot of people who show up just like, "I care," and they're being sincere, but they have no thought, they have no analysis, in fact the analysis they have are all pushing the other direction, and someone has to actually take time with them. And I even think it might be a wall for Berkeley itself, for the university. Instead of saying we're going to create some, we're an education institution, lets educate.

Mahasin Mujahid: I actually think that's an excellent point John, and I think that we'll see that happen across the country. Where our educational institutions are not only going to be responding to this national call to create, for example, an anti racism curriculum, to give people the tools to engage moving forward in a healthy discourse of what we need to do to dismantle anti black sentiments and other kinds of negative sentiments. And then I also think that we will see the same thing playing out across the country in board rooms and other places where there are going to be working groups and other concentrated efforts to make sure that this moment isn't just a bunch of words, and that there's actually action steps moving forward in terms of how we continue to improve from across our institutions and across our sectors. So I think that Berkeley can be certainly a leader in terms of the educational response.

Cristina Mora: I guess the only thing I would add to that is, this all hit in a moment of wide scale cynicism, right? People don't trust the government, people don't trust science, more so than we've ever seen as it mats on to political polarization. And I think an answer to that, by the academy, has been, "This is the data, these are our steps," transparency in all these ways. And then understanding that these ideas can't just sit in ivory towers, that we don't just talk to ourselves. We're out there engaging with the public. Our outputs, our goals are not just books and articles that sit, our goals are websites, our goals are community meetings, our goals are podcasts, our goals are ways of then bringing out this knowledge, these ideas out to the public. Speaking with high schools, things of the sort.

Cristina Mora: So I think that that's also part of this moment right now, right? It's re imagining then, what is our goal in the academy? And how does the academy, at this moment, meet the public? Meet the moment by meeting the public and reassessing, " Is it really the journal article that's behind the pay wall? Or is it engaging with communities, policies and re imagining them?" How we think of the intellectual as a public scholar.

Denise Herd: Great. Those are excellent. Any more on what we need to do to bridge these divides? I know John, that you thought a lot about belonging, are there any lessons or messages that you can add to the conversation from that perspective, about what it means for everybody in the society to feel that they do belong?

john a. powell: Yeah. These are excellent ideas. And I think, again, I would like to see forms where people become together, because we haven't exercised this muscle of bridging. We don't really know how to do it. And people are in pain, people are hurting. And I literally get requests, every day, from big companies, from government, as like, "What should we do?" And I believe some of them are sincere. When you get down to what you should do, at some point it's going to be costly. Because someone's benefiting from this arrangement.

john a. powell: So if you change zoning, I just did a talk this morning, organ. And the organ has actually eliminated single family home zoning and cities over 10,000, so you can build multi family structures, that actually matters. Right? You can actually try to do that, home owners will be like, "No, I'm not racist but the value of my home matters." So I think helping people have the discussion, and when people express concerns, being pluralistic. So for example, one of the big issues right now is what we should do with the police. And certain arguments which make sense of, maybe we should defund them, maybe we should abandon them. There's certain people who are afraid of that. And it doesn't mean they don't care about racial justice, how do we actually curate that discussion so people can hear each other?

john a. powell: My guess is, that in terms of the goal of having a police department that's responsive, that's caring, that's demilitarized, we have almost complete agreement, the way to get there is going to be complicated, there's going to be situations. I wish they'd have space for that. And we know in this charged environment, when people disagree with us, even those of us who're "on the left," we may trash them, we may become uncomfortable, we may attack them.

john a. powell: So bridging requires really listening, not just to our policy positions, but our deep emotions, our fear, our desires, our injuries. And again, as a society we're not good at that. So we're learning something at the institute, but to scale up and do this on amass, mass level, could be really important.

Cristina Mora: And I think one of the things too, should be to think about those bridges that we seem to take for granted, that are actually quite shaky sometimes. So for example when I think about black-brown relations, right? I think on the one hand, all of these ways in which these two communities, immigrant rights, BLM, all the ways that they map on in many ways, especially around thinking about public safety, the police, map on correctly. But this is also a real opportunity for us to think about what are the narratives that these communities have for each other. Because they are not always nice and pretty, right? And so this becomes a perfect moment.

Cristina Mora: I've done more requests now, for thinking deeply, for example, on anti black bias in the Latin X community, than I've ever had before. And it's because they're engaging. And this is a real opportunity, right? An if we can do it with sincerity, if we can do it in a way that we think we won't take this link for granted, we won't take this sense of their natural allied ships for granted, we will build it, we will talk about it, we will construct that narrative born out of, in many ways, a common set of pains and move forward.

Cristina Mora: I think the other thing it also makes me think of is also wideness, right? And the links that are shared amongst liberals and how that meets with race. The PEW Foundation just came out with a follow up on some of their survey work earlier this week. One of the things they show is that Republicans are pretty entrenched, they think if back in April they said that COVID wasn't a big risk, now at the end of June they're saying COVID's not a big risk. Where we're seeing is on white liberals, right?

Cristina Mora: So as the pandemic continues, it's movement in the way the prolonged state of this is affecting some white liberals to see this as less of a concern. Blacks and Latinos pretty much stay the same. And they were high on risk in April, and they're high now. And so then thinking not taking any of these links of who we think are natural allies for granted, and even opening up those conversations there as well, I think are pretty necessary.

Denise Herd: Right. I'm wondering just what we might to tell our people in public health about this moment, and what public health needs to think about. Because a lot of the things that we've been talking about are political in nature. So Mahasin maybe you could just share what you think this means for, how we as people doing research in public health and also educating the public, what kind of messages do you think need to happen?

Mahasin Mujahid: To begin with, I think we need to, as public health professionals, listen. Because one of the things for example, I'm a very data driven person. I use data to communicate and advocate for the rights of marginalized populations. And so sometimes when people discredit the data, I can be taken aback. Like, "Wait a minute, I'm actually trying to use this to advocate and get the experience, and get the trend mines." "Can't you see it?" And for some people, they don't trust the data. I have to have conversations with people in my close network about whether or not. For example, if COVID-19 is made up. Are the numbers really as severe as we see or is this all being played out to feed into our anxiety, in our fear. And I can't discredit that, I can" just say, "Well, I'm an epidemiologist and I know the numbers and they're real." I have to actually listen and understand where they're coming from. Because there has been a lot of misinformation.

Mahasin Mujahid: And I think when you have something like a pandemic that is a new infection, it takes time to understand what's going on. We're learning, we're doing the science in real time, and so messages will evolve over time. It doesn't mean that for the person who's not engaging with that research, that they understand those changes. Like well, if 2+2=4, then it should be four on Monday and it should be four on Saturday, and it needs to be four in 2030. I don't want all of these, it depends and we have to wait and see. So I think we have to understand where people become concerned, because it's an evolving story.

Mahasin Mujahid: I think the other thing that we have to do is, we can't take the moral high ground. Because we have to acknowledge that a lot of what we do in public health also has a very paternalistic lens to it. We like to go in and tell people what they should do when, "Oh, if you knew better you would do X, Y or Z." We try to convince people that their rational behavior is irrational or uninformed by the data. And I think we have to acknowledge the fact that people are experts to their lives, how to contend with it, how to make decisions on a daily basis, that we have a lot to learn from people in communities. And so, as we are dealing with the polarized nature of a lot of what's going on, it's important that we listen to all sides. Similar to how we need to listen more to communities, listen more to marginalized groups and make sure that we do not have an alludist approach to what we're doing. And we have to get out into the streets with the people and do the real work.

Mahasin Mujahid: So I think those are a couple of things that come to mind to me thinking about what we need to do as public health professionals.

Denise Herd: Thank you. And so, our Facebook audience has been a little bit quiet today and I think that many of the questions have already been addressed. So, at this point I just lie to ask the panelists, give everybody a chance to say any last words as we just have a few more minutes for this session.

Cristina Mora: Sure. What I would say is, this is on going. These are changing, what we are going to see. Polls that we run next month. When we ran a poll in April, we asked people what they thought about the efficacy of mask wearing. We found no real significant party differences there. It would be two weeks later that Trump would come out with Tweeting about masks and this then became politicized. And so that tells us the real power that our leaders have to shape this, and to keep reshaping it as we continue. I don't think that the book is closed in many ways on how we can reshape the narratives here. And obviously, the mask protest and attention to systemic racism, as an event that met the pandemic already, all of these are bringing new opportunities. The pandemic will still be here during the election. As we gear up for the election, all of these become opportunities to really get people to think, what are our values? How do we hold each other in community? Who is in our in-group? Who is in our out-group? What are processes of othering and belonging, as we've been discussing already? And so I think every day is changing, which also means every day is providing a new opportunity as more information, as more ways of reaching out to people open up. And as more and more people become affected by some one of the biggest global crisis of this generation, right?
Denise Herd:
Thank you.

john a. powell: Well, I want to say a couple of things. Cristina talked about this presumed alliances between black and brown, and I think that presumption has not born out. So I think being very deliberate about strengthening these bridges, about welcoming, calling people into the conversation, about structuring this conversation, and I think we haven't gotten into it, it's a little tricky to get into it now. But I think we have to distinguish between the problem of whiteness as an ideology and the problem of white people, I think we collapse those two. And so, as we talk about anti white supremacy, we should be clear that we're not just talking about people, we're talking about systems and ideology. And we should make space for people, including ourselves.

john a. powell: As Mahasin said, it's not like, we do study this whether it's epidemiology or whether it's racism, or whether its the data, but we're still learning. And part of what we're learning is how people feel. So part of the discussion has to be about feelings, and fears and anxiety. And I still think we have something to add, as people who study these things as well. But I think this is actually a cautiously optimistic moment, Americans trying to do something differently than it's done in the past. More people are involved. The pathway is not clear so there is still a lot of unknowns. And we're going to have to deal with the virus, because it's going to sap some of our energy and our resources. So how do we do this together, how do we make sure everyone belongs? How do we develop empathy for people even if we're not directly affected? It seems to me these are some of the challenges that face us in the future.

Denise Herd: Okay. Well it looks like our time is up. I wanted to thank our fantastic panel. This has been such a great conversation. And also thank all the people that have tuned in to watch this, This has been really enlightening, so thank you so much.

 

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