Opinion. A recent death in the UK represents an escalation of the dire situation that ethnic minorities in key worker roles face daily.
Racism, sexism, and other kinds of discrimination are not harmless problems that those who are affected should or could simply ignore. They do enormous harm, destroy existences, and as a recent case in the UK has once again shown, they kill. On Tuesday, May 12th, it was reported that the London Railway ticket office worker Belly Mujinga had died. She and a female colleague were assaulted on March 22nd, when a man who claimed to be infected with the virus deliberately spat and coughed on them. Not many days later, both women became sick. Mujinga was put on a ventilator on April 2nd, but passed away three days later. She had pre-existing respiratory issues, which most likely made her more vulnerable to COVID-19. Members of her family and co-workers have said that her employer, Govia Thaneslink Railway, knew of her condition and had her work in direct contact with customers anyway, ignoring her wishes not to. They even alleged that they were forbidden to wear masks at the time and were told to go back to work immediately after the assault. The lack of proper protection was explained by a spokesperson of the company by referring to official government recommendations at the time. A police investigation was only started after her death. Even if the man who assaulted them will be caught, this case raised many questions not even mentioning the legal problem of what action could be taken, and what the culprit could be charged with.
Studies dealing with the ethnic make up of the population that has been affected by the current coronavirus pandemic in the UK have shown one thing very clearly: People of Colour and all kinds of ethnic minorities are disproportionally represented, both concerning numbers of infections as well as deaths. Numbers that were released on May 7th by the Office of National Statistics show this quite clearly: When adjusting for age, gender, and other socio-demographic characteristics, black Britons were 1.9 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as white Britons, while for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background the likelihood was 1.8 times higher than for white Britons. It is important to keep in mind that while it seems sensible to adjust the numbers for factors such as age and gender to reach a more comparable result, adapting them to basically ignore socio-economic background also makes invisible one of the most easily perceivable effects of structural racism. Without most of the aforementioned adjustments, while still considering age (comparing the percentages for five-year age groups) the numbers become even more shocking and rise to a 4.2 times higher likelihood for black Britons.
It must not be disregarded that in the UK many key workers who are often subjected to a far higher viral load are from ethnic minorities. 20 percent of all NHS workers and 44 percent of doctors come from the BAME (black, asian, and minority ethnic) group, which is also overrepresented in transportation and other key worker roles. Without these workers, the UK health system and most other aspects of public live would be completely overwhelmed. The studies that are currently done on this subject are the first of their kind, which furthermore show the apparent lack of interest in the well-being of ethnic minorities and policies to improve it. Numbers like this are essential to even begin working on measures that could provide assistance and relief for these people. For the moment it seems that society and the government have no problem with putting an enormous weight on the shoulders of vulnerable groups without deeming it necessary to take responsibility in protecting them from harm.