We’ve seen this story before, with crime. In many parts of America, African Americans are overrepresented versus their share of the population in crime statistics. For years, racist demagogues used this fact to claim that criminality was a feature of African Americans. But eventually, social scientists discarded simple univariate analysis and learned to correlate factors such as social inequality, the prevalence of the drug trade, and low-quality policing as the true culprits that drive crime — among blacks, whites, and virtually every other group. The news media, wisely, moved away from focusing on the race of criminal perpetrators, coming to understand that race is merely a social fiction, not useful for correlating to complex problems that impact people of all backgrounds.
We should remember that when we think about the pandemic.
A young, healthy African-American with great health-care coverage who telecommutes every day and has groceries delivered to his door is not automatically at higher risk of contracting the virus or succumbing to it than an elderly white man who rides the subway to work every morning to work at an essential business where he interacts with hundreds of people a day.
The causal variable here is almost certainly not race. Although the virus is not perfectly understood, it is much more likely that factors such as underlying health conditions drive death rates, not race.