Jones gave his thoughts in a CNN op-ed, where he essentially said that both the government and Black people must “take more responsibility” for the health disparities in the Black community. Jones made his comments after various reports have shown that COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Black people. Jones explained, “Diseases like hypertension, diabetes, asthma and obesity make the virus far more deadly. And African American communities have those illnesses in numbers that are way out of proportion.” Jones then laid out why Black people are more likely to have these underlying health conditions, saying Black people tend to work challenging jobs that “pay less and offer worse health insurance. That’s a recipe for bad health right there.”
He added: “Doctors have been shown to give us shoddier services, even when we have health insurance. Additionally, we tend to live in neighborhoods where the stores sell less healthy food; fast food joints and liquor stores provide too many meals in urban America.”
Although Jones had a point about the “systemic racism on full display right now in our health care and economic systems,” it was his “Black people need to take more responsibility for our individual health choices” that set people off.
With this point, Jones said, “The science makes clear that our lifestyle choices — around sleep, nutrition, stress, and more — directly affect our ability to strengthen our immune system. And at a time when the virus is doing disproportionate damage to our communities, we need to ask: what can we do as individuals to get ourselves and our loved ones out of harm’s way?”
Jones then gave suggestions like, “Drink more water. Move our bodies. Process emotional pain through therapy, rather than comfort eating or substance abuse. Commit to a spiritual or religious practice. Meditate. Rest. Get more sleep.”
He even called out Black media, saying what if “we can make the quest for personal health as cool as we have made the quest for personal wealth. Imagine if rap videos and black TV shows started showcasing push-ups, Peloton and healthy green drinks, in the same way that they often showcase fashion and foreign cars.”
Jones then proceeded to list mostly Black organizations and influencers who are promoting healthier lifestyles such as yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley, Black-owned wellness center HealHaus, the Black Mental Health Alliance, and even celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyoncé who have donated to Black-owned wellness companies.
Although, Jones’ intentions might have been good, some people criticized the news pundit for reproducing a racist trope that Black people are partially responsible for our health disparities. While some Black people can certainly do the best they can with what they have (e.g. eating healthier), Americans as a whole tend to be less healthy, yet Black people are still disproportionately dying from the coronavirus. Thus, putting Black people’s individual choice on the same level as historic and systematic racism is problematic.
Bestselling anti-racist author and professor, Ibram X. Kendi explained in a Twitter thread:
“Jones is expressing both antiracist and racist ideas. Let me explain. To claim the choices Black people make are partially responsible for health disparities, for why Black people as a group are more likely to have diseases that make COVID-19 deadly, is to say Black people as a group are making inferior health choices than White people. It is saying if Black people only make as good choices as White people, then Black people would be as healthy as White people. That we can’t blame the coronavirus disparities all on racism, we must blame some of it on inferior Black health choices.”
He continued: “There are many Black individuals who would be healthier if they changed their lifestyles. Urging them to do so can be helpful to those individuals. But urging Black people as a group to change their lifestyles as a solvent to health disparities between groups is not helpful. There are many White individuals, too, who would be healthier if they changed their lifestyles, too. Why isn’t Jones lecturing them? Among those Black and White individuals making poor health choices, why are Black people dying at higher rates?”
Kendi ended by saying, “I believe Jones sincerely wants to help Black people, and I champion anyone who is striving to save Black lives, to save American lives in general. Jones is not like those wholly racist Americans attacking him for not wholly pointing to Black behavior as needing to change. Jones thinks racism and Black behavior are the problem. I respectfully disagree. The problem is racism. The solution to health disparities is transforming society, not transforming Black people.”
Again, @VanJones68 perpetuating the cultural narrative that Black folks are as responsible for their poor health as are systemic factors while research has rigorously shown that poverty and inequality are the main factors leading to racialized health disparities. https://t.co/EfLfx0z6wu— uché blackstock, md (@uche_blackstock) April 24, 2020
"Black people need to take more responsibility for our individual health choices." <- This is always the line (better choices). The aim is to chastise Black people, and ultimately to justify the unfair treatment of them. Shame on you @VanJones68 https://t.co/ub1Qirw2NJ— Dr. Melvin Rogers (@MRogers097) April 24, 2020
Does this address soil remediation in urban areas?— Maimunah is openly Black (@DaHeathenOne76) April 24, 2020
Does this address the dearth of fresh foods in some neighborhoods?
Does this address institutional racism in medicine? https://t.co/u0bOACZjFg
This is infuriating @VanJones68. Poverty is not a f*€**** choice. The ailments you mentioned are also not about just food, Sir. You wanna talk food? Talk about Monsanto, Tyson. Talk food deserts. Talk gentrification and Whole Foods.— Ifeoma Ike (@IfyWorks) April 24, 2020
You don’t speak for us. https://t.co/rohyN1tpBo
This is harmful. We can’t blame Black folks for outcomes that are a result of systemic racism. Telling us to figure out a way to fix it ourselves ain’t helpful.— Tiffany Lou Hamer (@tiffanology) April 24, 2020
Van Jones shouldn’t be allowed to comment on 99% of the things he gets paid to comment on 🤧— Sarita is so very tired 😩 (@diasporableus) April 24, 2020
Thing that annoys me about articles like this is that dude's really smart and KNOWS better than to make a weak point about personal responsibility & friggin coronavirus --> Van Jones: I'm someone Covid-19 could easily kill. Here is what I'm doing about ithttps://t.co/6E33hUqsQZ— 💜on the run💛🖤 (@busyxb) April 24, 2020
@VanJones68 I live in Flint Michigan, the water is already poison and has been for years next this virus and we still don't have a grocery store within 5 miles from my neighborhood. No public transportation (Viruses). Help me help my community.— 🍑ThZooKeeper🐒 (@ThZooKeeper) April 24, 2020