Politics, Moderate



Surgeon General needs to choose his words more carefully

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Everybody drinks: Whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, old people, young people, married moms in their "wine o'clock" T-shirts and suburban dads brewing craft beer in their basements. The list is endless.

So why did U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams hold a press conference at the White House last week to deliver what was, essentially, a public service announcement tailor-made for African Americans and Hispanics, asking them to "step it up"?

Adams asked these two communities, which he described as "socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure," to follow social distancing guidelines. "Wash your hands more often than you ever dreamed possible," he said, and "avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs."

He added that this was critical, "especially in communities of color." Adams pleaded: "We need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy, do it for your big mama, do it for your pop pop."

My question is: Why us? Why did Adams single us out? What did we do wrong?

It's Ina Garten, the white "Barefoot Contessa," who, at 9:30 in the morning, declared on Instagram that "It's always cocktail hour in a crisis!" and subsequently poured a freshly shaken cosmopolitan into a ginormous martini glass.


And it's whites -- specifically non-Hispanic whites without a four-year college degree -- who are dying "deaths of despair," according to economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who wrote the new book "Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism."

In a recent webinar about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deaton said that research shows most causes of death actually go down during recessions, but suicides increase. Deaton drew a straight line between despondency and virus-related joblessness at the webinar, which was from the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also talked about the continuation of the opioid crisis and the ways in which the health care system financially ruins people. And, well, though he didn't come out and say it, it doesn't look good.

Plus, you have to remember that even though, percentage-wise, minorities represent the highest share of those in poverty, whites outnumber people of color in poverty in raw numbers.

Look, I'm not being cute or clever by cherry picking doomsday statistics about whites and ignoring the fact that people of color are truly at high risk for contracting COVID-19 and dying from it.


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