Covid, Race, and the Revolution

A racial equity governing agenda, doctors take on racism, and the economic crisis in higher education, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 30. Nov. 18, 2020

A Racial Equity Governing Agenda

By Michael McAfee

Let’s never forget that the 2020 presidential election was won on the revolutionary energy and organizing power of Black and Indigenous people, people of color, young people, and progressive activists. Now it is time to ask who we want to be and how we want our institutions to create a fair, just society and effectively serve all in a multiracial democracy. It’s time to press national leaders to commit to a Racial Equity Governing Agenda.

Structural racism did not end with the election. The racial inequities etched into the nation’s soul are on full display as Covid-19 disproportionately kills Black, Indigenous, and Brown people; destroys millions of our jobs and small businesses; and forces essential workers to risk their lives to keep society functioning  — even if society doesn’t value them enough to provide protective gear or a living wage. Despite this year’s historic uprising for racial justice, Black people, men especially, are still being murdered by police. 

Racism not only created the systems and barriers that got America to this place; it has also blocked a meaningful, sustained government response to the catastrophes. Only a governing agenda centered on racial equity can move the nation forward.

The new administration will bring a fresh tone of inclusivity and compassion. We’ll see immediate efforts to reverse some of the cruelest, most racist federal policies, by restoring DACA, ending family separation, reinstituting fair housing rules, and more. Equity champions will again have a seat at federal policy tables.

These steps are hugely important. But even as equity leaders work with the new administration to create and implement essential reforms, we must not lose sight of our goal: winning on equity. 

Equity leaders and activists are already hearing calls to focus on modest policy gains and tone down our demands for structural transformation. But this is not a moment to retreat. Not when the nation must chart a pandemic recovery that closes the racial and economic gaps that have only grown wider in these months of crisis. And not when the systems of exclusion, oppression, and exploitation that have always harmed Black people remain firmly in place, leaving one-third of the population — 100 million people, of all races — struggling to make ends meet even before the onset of Covid-19.

PolicyLink is calling on government leaders to harness the energy on the streets and during the election cycle by committing to a Racial Equity Governing Agenda. It describes principles that will begin to create a fully inclusive society and an accountable, responsive democracy. These principles guide three broad actions:

  1. Strengthen our government institutions by making government not merely “not racist,” but explicitly anti-racist. Federal leadership must reflect the America it serves: diverse appointments in the executive and judicial branches are key. Thorough data collection and analysis, disaggregated by race, must drive government decisions.
  2. Strengthen federal policies to center Black people. The Curb Cut Effect tells us that investments in Black Americans have benefits that cascade out to help the nation as a whole. An intersectional racial lens can guide the administration in effectively and equitably addressing the toughest issues facing the nation. The government can start by conducting racial equity audits of every agency, drafting a Black and Brown federal budget that details how investments are prioritized, and working with Congress to overhaul the tax code.
  3. Grow accountability to the people by liberating the voice of the most vulnerable to build their power in the economy and democracy. Government must protect and expand the right to vote, remove barriers to worker organizing, and include workers and unions in pandemic response and economic recovery planning. 

We are in a struggle for justice and liberation. It requires us to stand in solidarity, stay strong, aim big, commit for the long haul, and redouble our efforts to build a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

Michael McAfee is President and CEO of PolicyLink.

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

One million new cases a day?

Covid-19 is ripping across the country at such furious speed, it is hard to track which region is hardest hit, the New York Times reports; El Paso, Texas — population: 683,000, roughly 80 percent Latinx — had more hospitalized Covid patients last week than most states and more than doubled its fleet of mobile morgues. The Navajo Nation, which effectively controlled a terrible outbreak last spring, is struggling again and has locked down and closed roads to tourists, KSL-TV reports.

North Dakota has the highest Covid death rate in the world, and South Dakota ranks No. 3, according to the Federation of American Scientists. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum finally bowed to pressure from health-care workers and imposed a mask mandate in certain settings, an action his South Dakota counterpart, Kristi Noem still refuses to take, Huffington Post writes. Noem has gone on the attack against tribal sovereignty and Native civic rights, as tribes have imposed checkpoints and other measures to protect themselves from the virus and the failure of their state’s government, The New Republic reports.

It took the United States 99 days to reach one million Covid cases, back in April. It took 10 days to go from nine to 10 million, and only six days to go from there to 11 million, which we hit this week. At this growth rate, the nation could see one million new cases a day by the end of the year, Business Insider reports

Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Alaska Native people continue to suffer an outsized share of infections and severe complications. At least 45,511 Black lives have been lost to the virus, or one of every five Covid deaths for which race is known, according to the Covid Racial Tracker

Doctors take on racism

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest association of physicians, adopted a new policy Monday that recognizes racism as a public health threat and commits to work actively on dismantling racist policies and practices across health care.

Kaiser Health News looks at the growing activism among medical students demanding anti-racist physician education. They are pushing their schools to eliminate the use of race in diagnosis, recognize how systemic racism hurts patients, and reckon with medicine’s racist history and legacy.

Higher ed’s economic crisis

Ten million people, including four million children, will be pushed below the poverty line this year as unemployment benefits expire and Congress continues to stall on further Covid relief, according to the government’s own data, Truthout reports

Senate foot-dragging on a stimulus bill will only make it more expensive to restore the economy and rescue workers and families, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz tells Salon. “Digging yourself out of a deep hole is much more expensive than preventing a decline into a deep hole.”

Higher education is in a financial tailspin, and colleges and universities are laying off an unprecedented number of people, the Washington Post reports. The lowest-paid workers, including custodians, administrative assistants, and adjunct instructors, bear the brunt, repeating a broad pattern of what the paper calls “the most unequal recession in modern US history.”

The scale of human need during this recession is illustrated dramatically in Los Angeles, where the public school system, which serves about 700,000 mostly low-income students, has conducted a massive relief effort. Since campuses closed in the spring, the school district has distributed 75 million grab-and-go meals to students and their families, and 10 million other supplies such as face masks and packages of diapers, according to the New York Times.

Some 300 companies that received as much as half a billion dollars in coronavirus-related government loans have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Many say the Paycheck Protection Program provided insufficient funds to keep them afloat as the pandemic drags on. The companies employ a total of about 23,400 workers.

News organizations have won a court order compelling the government to publicly release the names of borrowers who got federal pandemic loans, ProPublica reports. Initial data on borrowers, released only after news organizations sued, showed significant abuse of the Paycheck Protection Program and exposed deep inequities, with business owners of color disproportionately receiving funds late or not at all.

Heightened dangers for the most vulnerable

Nursing homes, which account for more than 40 percent of the nation’s Covid deaths, continue to experience dangerously long delays for coronavirus test results, Kaiser Health News reports. Meanwhile, the virus continues to tear through facilities, with a third of nursing homes reporting a new case in a single week. 

In a recent survey of nursing home operators, 72 percent said they won’t be able to continue operating through 2021 without more federal coronavirus relief, Next Avenue reports. A wave of closures would have the greatest impact on Medicaid patients, who make up the majority of residents.

A new study finds that people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders are three times more likely to die of Covid-19 if they contract it, compared with people who don’t have the conditions, according to the New York Times. Guidelines for allocating vaccines are still evolving but so far they have not prioritized immunization for people with intellectual challenges and developmental disorders.

As winter bears down, hundreds and maybe thousands of people in Chicago are living on the streets, a problem likely to grow because the pandemic has forced shelters to limit capacity, Kaiser Health News reports. Black people make up only a third of the city’s population, but roughly three-fourths of those who are experiencing homelessness. Cold-weather cities nationwide are scrambling to shelter people before it freezes. “In the ideal world, we would have permanent housing for them,” said Dr. David Ansell of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. “That is the only way we can protect people’s health. That’s the fundamental health issue. It’s a fundamental racial justice issue. It’s a fundamental social justice issue.”

Art and design for community change

A new handbook uses design thinking to help teachers, community organizers, artists — really anyone, anywhere — creatively address society’s problematic structures and systems. Ideas-Arrangements-Effects, by Boston’s Design Studio for Social Intervention, introduces innovative ways of framing strategy so it can be done iteratively, playfully, and through manageable yet meaningful actions, Heather Kapplow writes in a Hyperallergic review.

A public webinar Friday, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, will explore the intersection of arts and culture, community investments, and healthy communities, and the critical role of artists in social change.


PolicyLink draws from articles, videos, interviews, and other sources across platforms, as well as from our network of equity leaders and activists, to bring you the latest information about COVID-19 and race. We offer this resource to:

  • Provide easy access to information on the dual health and economic crises facing people of color;
  • Put and keep racial equity at the center of our collective understanding of the pandemic and the policies needed for relief and recovery; and
  • Lift up useful data and insights that can fuel equity advocacy and campaigns. 

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 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 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.