It’s been well established that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated racial disparities in America. While Black men have remained at one of the highest risks of death of any group in the country, Black women have also been hit particularly hard, dying from COVID at a rate of three times that of white women. In addition to the direct impact of COVID, newly analyzed data shows that Black women’s lives have also been endangered by the indirect effects of the pandemic.
Homicide rate grew more for Black women than any other group
Black men remained the group with the highest rate of death by homicide — a sad statistic that is unfortunately neither new nor surprising. Black men also had the largest increase in deaths by homicide of any demographic. What has changed, however, is that the rate by which Black women are being killed has risen dramatically. Black women are twice as likely as white women to be killed by another person, and that gap grew in 2020.
The Guardian investigated this alarming increase in Black women dying by homicide. The states with the largest increase in Black women being killed were mostly in the Midwest and South, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas and Indiana. Additionally, Washington, D.C., saw an alarming spike in Black women being killed, rising from 10 in 2019 to 25 in 2020.
Overall, police reports show that most of these killings were committed by romantic partners or family members of the women. Additionally, Black trans women have been especially vulnerable. Half of the murders of trans women or gender non-conforming people in 2020 were committed against Black trans women.
In 2020 and 2021, Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) introduced the Protect Black Women and Girls Act to tackle the racial disparities in violence and other areas of life that impact Black women. Additionally, Attorney General Merrick Garland promised to make protecting Black trans women a priority of the Justice Department under his leadership.
Spike in Black maternal mortality
In addition to deaths by homicide, Black women were also hit the hardest during the pandemic in terms of maternal mortality. As overall maternal mortality rose 33% in 2020, the racial gap in such deaths widened as well. In 2020, Black women were 2.9 times as likely as white women to die during labor or soon after giving birth. To put that into perspective, one-third of all maternal deaths in 2020 were Black women, even though Black people only make up 13% of the U.S. population.
As Blavity previously reported, maternal mortality had risen even before the pandemic, with Black women hit the hardest. Even before COVID-19, Black women were 2.5 times as likely as white women to die during or shortly after childbirth. In response to this ongoing crisis, Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC) launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus in 2019 to address the healthcare crisis facing Black women during and after pregnancy. In 2021, Adams, Underwood and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a collection of 12 bills intended to improve medical care for Black women to close the maternal mortality gap.
As long-time structural inequalities endure in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Black women will continue to be especially vulnerable to violence and adverse health conditions. It is therefore important that more efforts like those mentioned here be made to protect Black women and girls from the crises that endanger them daily.