It’s the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion study we didn’t know we needed. A group of researchers studied the remains of people who died in the 14th century to see how racism influenced the death of people during an uncontrolled pandemic that is incapable of discriminating – due largely to the fact that plagues typically do not have brains nor eyes and are incapable of discerning different races of people.
The Plague, the Black Death, or whatever else you want to call it was a devastating disease that ravaged Britain between 1348 and 1350. According to the BBC, the researchers found that the Great Pestilence killed black women at a higher rate than any other demographic group because of “premodern structural racism,” because plagues were racist before racism was cool.
Data on bone and dental changes of the 145 individuals from East Smithfield emergency plague cemetery, St Mary Graces and St Mary Spital formed the basis of the study.
It found there were significantly higher proportions of people of colour and those of Black African descent in plague burials compared to non-plague burials.
The likelihood of dying from the Great Pestilence was highest amongst those who already faced significant hardship, including exposure to famines that hit England during this time.
The research concluded that higher death rates amongst people of colour and those of black African descent was a result of the “devastating effects” of “premodern structural racism” in the medieval world.
The Black Death – which I am assuming will no longer be called such due to the “devastating effects” of “premodern structural racism” – was caused by the Xenopsylla cheopis flea, a parasite found mostly on mammals that is a vector for Yersina pestis, the bacteria that caused the plague in the 14th century. Both the flea and the bacteria are also incapable of using race as a factor in determining where they land and spread their disease.
What is unclear in the story is how they determined the “higher rate” of mortality for black women. Roughly half the population of London died during the pandemic (roughly 35,000), and there is no indication as to what percentage of the population of London in 1348 was of black African descent. What research I could find on the subject shows that only by the 17th or 18th century did the black population of England reach 1-3 percent, so three centuries earlier (at minimum), it was not significant.
So if the black population of London was not statistically significant in the 14th century, then of course it affected them “at a higher rate.” If you have 50 black women in London and 45 of them died of the plague, that is definitely a higher percentage than how many white men or women died of the plague when their numbers were insanely higher.
But the other problem with their conclusion is that it’s a scientific conclusion you can’t test or challenge. There isn’t going to be a massive outbreak of Bubonic Plague in London in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-three, and the last pandemic we had (the COVID-19 one) wasn’t a racist one either, despite what the social scientists would like to say. Co-morbidities, socioeconomic status, and access to healthcare were bigger factors (when you look at the actual data), but it’s easier to blame “modern structural racism” than those factors.
Again, though, one point needs to be made clear: Plagues, bacteria, and fleas are incapable of being racist. That didn’t stop these researchers – from Michigan and Colorado, by the way – from claiming that they are.
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