Worldwide media coverage has presented the COVID-19 pandemic as an indiscriminate novel virus – a global leveler.
People the world over are experiencing a “new normal” as they navigate life under state government mandates to stay home. However, according to an Associated Press analysis on the racial disparities of the pandemic, African-Americans account for 42 percent of known COVID-19 related deaths reported in the nation. The analysis covered more than 4,450 deaths and 52,000 COVID-19 cases. African-Americans accounted for 21 percent of the population in the areas that were analyzed.
Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink, said mainstream media is not telling the public that people of color and indigenous people have always lived under a pandemic of racial inequality enforced through structural racism. Furthermore, COVID-19 has only highlighted the disparities these communities face daily. For example, African-Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, asthma and receive the highest levels of inadequate healthcare.
“Every time there is a crisis, Black folks, people of color, indigenous folks, are going to experience these types of things first and worst and it’s time for us to get out of this pathological way of behaving where we simply are shocked in the moment at what we are seeing, and yet we never want to tend to the structural ways in which we are creating this,” said McAfee.
PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, started in 1999 by Angela Glover Blackwell. The organization’s work is centered around advancing an equitable economy, healthy communities of opportunity and a just society.
PolicyLink is advising restructuring democracy and the economy to benefit everyone, and lift up work done by communities of color and to put people first by making the scale and duration of relief match the scale and duration of the need. It is also calling for government to invest in community infrastructure by investing in organizations that have proven to work effectively with community and succeed in getting results and build an equitable economy by providing direct support to workers and help small businesses preserve jobs. In addition, it is calling for government to protect and expand community voice and power by including low-income people, people of color and indigenous people in recovery decisions.
A more detailed roadmap of accountability aligned with each principle will be unveiled by PolicyLink in the coming weeks.
“In the coming months we are going to be rolling out scorecards holding government and corporations accountable for doing what they said they were going to do,” said McAfee. “We are not going to let this recovery end like the last. And so one of the things we’ve learned is that our institution must fight and we are going to fight in a different way by being able to put the data out to see, did jobs improve, did healthcare improve, did housing improve for the folks who need it the most.”
In 2018 PolicyLink published the report “100 Million and Counting: A Portrait of Economic Insecurity in the United States.” The report states that more than 100 million people in the United States, about one third of the population live in economic insecurity, with household incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty level. For a single family that equates to an annual income of $24,000, and for singles the annual income is $12,000.
McAfee said this nation has not designed a support system for those most in need.
“Think about how many states have intentionally stopped people from being able to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. Think about how many states have intentionally not expanded Medicaid or Medicare or have cut them to save money. Think about what you are seeing in so many places like Florida and others where, by design they have made it so it was almost impossible to get unemployment benefits and now you see the systems crashing.”
He firmly believes that through transformative solidarity, communities of color and indigenous people can demand the change that is needed. “The most important thing we can do right now is to demand that our communities have the features that make other communities thrive. This is the time to transcend charity even though it’s needed. It’s our job to make sure it’s less needed by designing this nation so that it works for everyone. It’s going to be the people of color that will lead that charge.”