The Impact of Racism on Plague Mortality Rates in Medieval London

The Impact of Racism on Plague Mortality Rates in Medieval London

A groundbreaking study conducted by academics at the Museum of London has revealed a troubling disparity in the mortality rates of Black women of African descent during the medieval plague. The research sheds light on how racism played a significant role in determining a person’s risk of death during the devastating outbreak known as the Great Pestilence or Great Mortality.

The study focused on analyzing the remains of 145 individuals from three key cemeteries in London: East Smithfield emergency plague cemetery, St Mary Graces, and St Mary Spital. These burial sites provided crucial insights into the impact of the plague on different communities. The outbreak, which occurred between 1348 and 1350, claimed the lives of an estimated 35,000 Londoners.

Researchers discovered that individuals who faced significant hardships, such as exposure to famines and other socioeconomic challenges, were more susceptible to the plague. This finding aligns with previous knowledge that people from marginalized communities often bear the brunt of health crises. The study also highlighted how premodern structural racism, characterized by social and religious divisions based on origin, skin color, and appearance, worsened the mortality rates among people of color and those of Black African descent.

Dr. Rebecca Redfern, a leading archaeologist at the Museum of London, emphasized the importance of archaeological research in understanding the lives and experiences of individuals who are historically underrepresented in written sources. She drew parallels with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, noting that social and economic factors greatly influenced people’s health outcomes then and now.

This study not only enriches our understanding of the medieval plague but also encourages us to confront the lasting impacts of structural racism on public health. It serves as a reminder that marginalized communities have often faced disproportionate challenges during times of crisis. By acknowledging these historical patterns, we can work towards building a more equitable and inclusive society that prioritizes the health and well-being of all its members.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What was the medieval plague?

The medieval plague, often referred to as the Black Death, was a deadly infectious disease that ravaged Europe and Asia between 1348 and 1350. It claimed the lives of millions of people and caused widespread devastation. The disease was primarily spread by infected fleas carried by rats and through droplet infection, such as coughing or sneezing on one another.

What were the symptoms of the medieval plague?

Symptoms of the medieval plague included fever, fatigue, vomiting, and the development of painful swellings called buboes. These buboes often appeared in the armpits, groin, or neck and were accompanied by severe pain.

How did racism contribute to higher death rates during the medieval plague?

Racism played a significant role in determining a person’s risk of death during the plague. Marginalized communities, particularly individuals of color and those of Black African descent, faced premodern structural racism characterized by social and religious divisions. These divisions exacerbated their vulnerability to the plague, as they often endured significant hardships such as exposure to famines and other socioeconomic challenges.

What can we learn from this study?

This study highlights the enduring impact of racism on public health outcomes. By examining historical patterns, we gain insights into how marginalized communities have historically faced disproportionate challenges during times of crisis. Understanding these dynamics allows us to work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive society that prioritizes the well-being of all its members.

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