Was lockdown racist? Lecture in Princeton Center for Human Values, Boston SPH

Delighted to be giving a talk called “Was lockdown racist?” at the Princeton Centre for Human Values (2 Nov) and the Boston School of Public Health’s Department of Global Health (7 Nov).

Princeton: 2 Nov @ 4.30pm, Center for Human Values

Boston SPH: 7 Nov @ 1pm, Dept of Global Health


In 2016, South African learner Zulaikha Patel argued that a school rule requiring hair to be neat was racist, despite applying equally to pupils of all races. This paper argues that suppression strategies deployed against Covid-19, especially in the early stages of the pandemic, were racist in the same way. The suppression strategy was motivated by science done in traditional seats of colonial power. Local factors shaped (as they normally do) both the methods used and the recommendations arrived at. These did not adequately consider the situation of many people globally living in various contexts of poverty: including on those in Africa. Notwithstanding, the recommendations were promulgated by the World Health Organisation and others, with no regard for local context. Feasibility of implementing “lockdowns” in breadline conditions, effectiveness in overcrowded conditions, local priorities, and the age of the population (in Africa, median 19.7) were not contemplated. Local political and financial interests were aligned with this neglect, and local scientific capacity was in any case lacking. When a regulatory package is implemented in an African country with high costs and low benefits, and originates in a strategy conceived in Europe and promulgated by European-based international organisations, it is impossible to ignore racial dynamics. I show that the trope of “lockdown” as enacted for Covid is a central difference between the responses to Covid and other epidemics in Africa, and I show that one cannot adequately explain this contrast without reference to race. Therefore lockdown was racist.