A team of researchers confirmed what many may have suspected during the early months of the pandemic: white people's attitudes about the pandemic changed after learning about the racial disparities in Covid-19's impact.
The study, published late last month in Social Science & Medicine, comes from the University of Georgia's Psychology Department. The researchers found that white people surveyed across the US in fall 2020 cared less about pandemic precautions after learning that the virus disproportionately impacted Black people and other people of color.
"When white people in the US were more aware of racial disparities in Covid-19, they were less fearful of Covid-19," the study's co-author Allison Skinner-Dorkenoo told NBC News. "We found evidence of less empathy for people who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and we also found evidence of reduced support for safety precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19," Skinner-Dorkenoo added.
But the findings didn't stop at ordinary citizens, state officials, like Wisconsin Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, carried these ideals into life-changing decisions for citizens that echoed the study's findings.
In May 2020, Roggensack determined that a surge in Covid-19 cases in Brown County "were due to meatpacking" at a plant where majority of the workforce is Black or Latino. The surge "wasn't just the regular folks in Brown County," Roggensack said in case to keep a state stay-at-home order in place or not.
Attitudes like Roggensack's, the researchers said, are common when white people believe that Covid-19 and its aftermath is "not a white people problem."
The impact of Covid-19 on Black communities across the nation and world has been devastating and disproportionate.
Underlying medical conditions spurred by inadequate access to quality healthcare, medical racism, pay and employment inequality, and the legacy of systemic racism created a situation where the virus itself, plus its economic fallout burdened our communities at higher rates.
Misinformation campaigns targeted at Black communities created a vaccine gap after the vaccine's rollout, too. An eviction moratorium ended, and the pre-pandemic wealth gap created a dire situation for many Black households across the country when lockdown orders and mask mandates, went into effect.
This new study reveals that instead of inspiring the majority to better precautions to vulnerable groups, learning about the disparities made most of the white people surveyed in the study check out. However, some who were aware of the systemic racism at work in the pandemic became more inclined to maintain precautions.
"I think there is potential to think about educating people about the structural and systemic inequalities," Skinner-Dorkenoo said. "Contexualizing this, but giving more information and really highlighting ... the injustice" she added.
"This didn't just happen, it wasn't just random. It was socially designed to happen this way."