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.”