Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COVID-19 & Race. June 2020

This week’s COVID-19 and Race Commentary explores why the nationwide uprising for racial justice could bring big, lasting change, how racism harms health, and why building Black-owned businesses is key to an equitable recovery.

Issue No 10. June 17, 2020

Beginning America’s Next Story
By Angela Glover Blackwell

Having been an advocate for racial justice for nearly 50 years, I am not surprised that people are asking me whether this moment is different. Is it going to lead to big, lasting change?
My answer: This feels like a seismic shift, and the beginning of America’s next story.
I grew up during the Civil Rights movement and graduated from college into the Black Power movement. Over the years, I’ve litigated to fight employment discrimination, protect consumer rights, and reform police. Alongside brilliant, dedicated Black residents and leaders, I worked to reduce Black infant mortality and bring grocery stores and investments to neglected Black neighborhoods. In solidarity with thousands of visionary activists, I’ve fought to obtain, protect, and defend our rights while unapologetically demanding racial equity — just and fair inclusion into a society where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
I can recognize a big moment for change when I see one. This looks like the real thing.
This uprising signals something different from the marches and goals of the Civil Rights movement. That movement saw America as a place of opportunity, and believed that things would get better for Black people if the system would just eliminate discriminatory laws that locked us out of participating in everything from voting to jobs to public accommodations.
The Black Power movement believed that protesting segregation was not enough to remedy generations of structural racism. The proponents had a biting critique of capitalism and a deep love of Black culture and people. Black Power prioritized building Black economic and political might over integration into White society.
In the end, neither movement fundamentally improved outcomes for the majority of Black Americans. The Civil Rights movement underestimated the power of racism to survive and even thrive after discriminatory laws were removed. The Black Power movement underestimated the degree of police violence it would confront and the impact of FBI infiltration on its credibility. It also underestimated the willingness of White America to abandon cities and set up race-based enclaves in surrounding areas, while simultaneously sucking the resources, infrastructure, and political clout out of urban centers where Black people were beginning to amass power.
But today, the circumstances, the demands, and especially the capacities are different. There’s a growing consensus that something is fundamentally wrong in America, tied to racism and exclusion. A recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans consider racism and discrimination a “big problem,” up 26 points from 2015. This is a remarkable change in just a few years.
This shift in perception is due to the savvy and uncompromising Movement for Black Lives and its courageous leaders. It also reflects the growing number of Black elected, civic, labor, government, and business leaders, as well as Black researchers, artists, and foundation executives who are increasingly using their Black power and platforms to call out structural racism, build solidarity with others who are feeling the full brunt of systemic exclusion, and call for bold change.
We may also be witnessing a turning point for the White community. Not only are thousands of young White people joining protests in every region of the country, White business leaders, elected officials, scholars, and pundits are all rushing to show their support for those in the streets. They are calling out racism and admitting to their complicity in advancing it and ignoring it. They are also putting money and resources on the table to finally defeat racism.
And now this new movement is demanding transformation.
Americans have been watching the brutalization of Black bodies since before the founding of the country but somehow managed to deny the reality of what they had seen. The videotaped beating of Rodney King made police violence against Black people undeniable, but the videotaped murder of George Floyd has rendered it unacceptable. The righteous indignation of multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational protesters is forcing the nation to wrestle with the ghosts of the past and the role that policing has played in institutionalizing brutality against Black people. As a result, we are now talking about defunding the police and reimagining community safety, instead of settling for minor reforms.
But it’s not only about law enforcement. George Floyd was killed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of the virus than Whites, and Latinx Americans are twice as likely to die. This is a result of longstanding structural racism in health-care access, housing, education, and the economy. As of April, less than half of the adult Black population was employed.  And people of color with jobs were more likely to be frontline industry workers with the greatest exposure to the coronavirus.
As the world enters a deep economic recession, young people (and not just young people of color) are facing both inequality and extreme uncertainty. They wonder if they will ever have a good job, be able to buy a house, or save money for retirement. Young people of color had the highest unemployment rates before COVID-19, according to the US Department of Labor, and have even fewer job options now. As with prior social movements, youth are a driving force in this uprising and they aren’t interested in compromise. They want economic transformation and reject the current toxic inequality that favors the wealthy while limiting equitable opportunities, ravaging the planet, and throwing the most vulnerable people to the bottom of the economic pile. 
It’s exhilarating to see this diverse movement centering Black people and standing up for transformative change. Let’s revel in this moment but remember that we won’t achieve lasting impact unless we continue to do the work. We must reach into our radical imaginations and bring forth a compelling vision for the nation we need and deserve. We must keep raising awareness, organizing, demanding change, using our power, building our movement, expanding our ranks, and moving forward. 
Do the work and it will be different this time.
Angela Glover Blackwell is Founder in Residence at PolicyLink and host of the podcast Radical Imagination.

Highlights from the News, Analysis, and Commentary

As states begin to reopen, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery issued an open letter calling out the insidious effects of structural racism across society, and urging business and civic leaders throughout the nation to rebuild the economy to be more inclusive and resilient. Recovering from COVID-19 “presents an opportunity to re-imagine our society and economy by striking out against injustice. We declare with one voice that this pattern of racial inequality must stop now and that the results of our attempt to redress the past and correct the present will manifest in this generation.”
A critical recovery strategy that would build significant wealth in Black communities is the creation of more Black-owned businesses with broad public support so they can grow, Ron Busby, CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., tells Forbes. In addition to serving as engines of wealth and job creation, small businesses owned by people of color are the emotional heart of neighborhoods suffering most because of COVID-19 and the economic aftershocks, as this New York Times story about a beloved bar in Oakland, California, poignantly illustrates.
Please share with your networks, send your ideas and feedback, and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram using hashtag #COVIDandRace.
We hope you find the COVID-19 and Race Series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a nonprofit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible.

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