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Columbia Law School




The COVID-19 crisis has tragically revealed the depth of racial inequities in the United States. This Piece argues that the disproportion­ate impact of the pandemic on racial minorities is a symptom of a failing approach to public health, one that privileges individual behaviors over the structural conditions that generate vulnerability and inequitable health outcomes. Despite clear racial disparities in illness and deaths, the neoliberal ideology of personal responsibility shifts the onus for mitigation of risk away from the social and legal determinants of health and onto the individual. To understand how and why these disparate racial outcomes arise, this Piece offers an account of the theoretical frameworks that underpin the personal responsibility approach to public health and argues that it is necessary to foreground the social determinants of health in the response to the pandemic.

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