Covid, Race, and the Revolution

PolicyLink announces Equity Blueprint, America’s reopening leaves communities behind, equitable pandemic aid comes under attack, and more, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 56. June 16, 2021

Announcing the Equity Blueprint

By Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell

When PolicyLink launched this weekly newsletter, originally titled Covid-19 and Race, on April 15, 2020, there was no data yet on the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on people of color. But we have worked for equity long enough to have foreseen three things: (1) people of color would be hit hardest by the virus and the pandemic’s social and economic upheavals; (2) the nation would not respond to the threats to communities of color or recognize that until all are safe, the country would remain vulnerable; and (3) communities would rise up, with vast creativity and caring, to fill the leadership vacuum, work in solidarity, and forge pathways through the crisis.

We have explored all this and more in the newsletter. We examined the racial impacts on jobs, work, and unemployment; housing and financial security, education equity, and of course, health. We have pushed for vaccine distribution and economic recovery strategies that center racial equity. As Covid exposed and intensified America’s sweeping systemic failures, rooted in centuries of racism, PolicyLink staff and guest writers put forth ideas to radically redesign systems and institutions so they value all people and serve all communities. 

We lifted up campaigns and models that are pushing the edge of possibility: reimagining housing as a public good and not a commodity, claiming water as a human right, decolonizing philanthropy, reinventing a patent system that restricts access to lifesaving medications, investing in youth of color, and building the power of workers in industries notorious for low wages and exploitation. 

We explored hope, sadness, grief, energy, innovation, and resolve in communities during a year like no other.

More than any other topic, we have written about the brutal interplay of Covid, race, and the criminal-legal system. We have examined the false promise of police reform and transformative approaches to healing and community safety.

It was all too predictable that police killings of Black men would continue during the pandemic, as always. But we did not foresee that the murder of George Floyd would unleash massive protests across the nation and the globe. The moment inspired us to rename this newsletter last spring, to Covid, Race, and the Revolution. We anticipated, correctly, that the outcry for racial justice would deepen solidarity and change the conversation about race in America. A year later, the federal government, philanthropy, and many corporate leaders are committed to and investing in addressing structural racism.

We marked the start of the Biden-Harris Administration by laying out a Racial Equity Governing Agenda, reflected in the administration’s Day One executive order, signaling a dramatic shift in the level of opportunity to advance racial equity across our country. We heard the call loud and clear and are ready to meet this pivotal moment, not just by naming the design problems of our nation, but also by articulating a clear, compelling vision of the design solutions. 

Beginning Thursday, July 1, we’ll be responding to the opportunities of this moment by sharing the game-changing ideas and actions that truly have the potential to redesign our nation, improve our world, and win on equity. Look for our new newsletter, Equity Blueprint, in your inbox on the first Thursday of every month. Our charge is guided by Toni Cade Bambara: "The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.” Equity Blueprint will bring you content that leaves no doubt in your mind that a new world is possible and we have the capacity to create it.

This marks the final issue of Covid, Race, and the Revolution. We want to express our deepest gratitude to every person who made this project possible over 56 weeks. Most of all, we thank you for reading and for joining us on the next phase of our journey. 

Michael McAfee is President and CEO of PolicyLink. Angela Glover Blackwell is Founder in Residence of PolicyLink and host of the Radical Imagination podcast.

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

In reopening, the nation leaves communities behind

California, the first state to impose a Covid-19 lockdown, lifted most of its restrictions Tuesday in what officials are calling the “Grand Reopening,” AP reports. There are no more capacity limits at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums, or other businesses and public venues, and in most settings the government no longer mandates masks — one of the most contentious symbols of the pandemic. It is a dramatic indication that the nation is turning the corner on the coronavirus. 

But it’s too soon to shift focus and care away from fighting the pandemic. Even as overall infections and deaths decline, Black and Latinx communities remain at high risk.  “We’re left with a community on fire,” Dianne Wilkerson, co-founder of the Black Boston Covid-19 Coalition, tells the Boston Globe. Her group and others are redoubling efforts to knock on doors, disseminate information, and encourage vaccination. 

Latinx communities have not only suffered the highest rates of coronavirus infections of any group and one of the highest death rates; new research shows that Latinx people are dying at younger ages, the New York Times reports. A California study found that Latinx people ages 20-54 were 8.5 times more likely to die of Covid than their White counterparts. The loss of so many people in the prime of life has shattered families emotionally and financially.

Seven of the eight states currently experiencing an increase in Covid cases  — Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have vaccination rates below the national average, USA Today reports

Another Covid vaccine, Novavax,  moved a step closer to seeking federal authorization. A study of nearly 30,000 adults showed the vaccine to be 90 percent protective against symptomatic infection, giving it roughly the same efficacy as the widely used Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Stat reports. About 20 percent of the study volunteers were Latinx, 12 percent were African American, 7 percent were Native American, and 5 percent were Asian American. 

Just as these promising research results were announced Monday, the US crossed the painful threshold of 600,000 Covid deaths.

Equitable pandemic aid under attack

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a loan forgiveness program for farmers of color, in response to a suit filed by a conservative legal group claiming the program discriminates against White farmers, CBS News reports. Part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, the program seeks to help thousands of farmers hurt by decades of racial discrimination in lending and other government support. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have introduced the Farm Subsidy Transparency Act, which would require the US Department of Agriculture to track and disclose information on the race and gender of all recipients of farm subsidies, loans, and other assistance. 

White business owners have also sued to stop targeted pandemic relief through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the New York Times reports. A judge has now suspended that program, which prioritized grants to women, military veterans, and “socially and economically disadvantaged” individuals. Tens of thousands of applications are on hold, and nearly 3,000 restaurant owners won’t receive money they’ve already been promised. “I started crying,’’ Gregory León, a Milwaukee restaurateur, told the paper.

In San Diego, only 2 percent of $211 million available in state and federal rental and utility assistance has reached households in need, according to inewsource, a local nonprofit news organization. The hangup here is not a legal challenge, but cumbersome bureaucracy. Tenants go weeks hearing nothing about the status of their application, then get word and have only a few days to connect with their landlord and submit various documents. Local agencies must spend most of the money by Sept. 30 or return it to the government. The San Diego Housing Commission says it likely won’t meet the deadline.

Race and culture in the classroom

A wave of parents of color are choosing to homeschool their children even after classrooms have reopened, according to Wired. Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of homeschool families have been White. But census data indicates that homeschooling rates have increased across all ethnic groups in the past year, with the biggest rise among Black families. The Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars network began as a small Facebook group and now has over 1,000 members. A Latinos Homeschooling Facebook group has also seen a surge. Sarahi Espitia, a mother of four in a Dallas suburb, told the magazine that homeschooling was initially “nerve wracking” but she came to appreciate the flexibility in scheduling and the fact that she can teach her children more Mexican history than they would learn in school.

After George Floyd’s murder last year triggered a nationwide uprising over racial injustice, many teachers incorporated and expanded lessons about systemic racism. Predictably, conservative politicians in a number of states — Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Texas, among others — introduced and passed bills banning classroom discussions of race, marginalized groups, and equity.  After Oklahoma passed such a law, teacher Melissa Smith received an email canceling a popular community college course on race theory she has taught for six years. "I'm not happy,” she told KOCO News. “This is information everyone needs to know." 

Teachers across the country agree, Mother Jones writes. In a national day of action last weekend organized by Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project, thousands of teachers took to the streets and social media to protest these bans. Many signed a pledge to “refuse to lie to young people about US history and current events — regardless of the law.”

Please share with your networks and send your ideas and feedback. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. #COVIDandRace

We hope you find this series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit 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. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.