The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us about this day. He once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most inhumane and shocking.”
However, we still act surprised when we discover that African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The headlights shine the light on the impact of white supremacy, while incorrectly blaming and shaming African-Americans.
There is an old saying that “when America catches a cold, African-Americans catch the flu.” The question now becomes: “When America catches the flu, what happens to African-Americans?”
In a state like Minnesota, with some of the worst racial disparities in the nation, African-Americans are at even greater risk. With COVID-19, our structural racism and inequality are on full display.
COVID-19 has become the survival of the fittest. The most vulnerable and disenfranchised — African-Americans — are dying at disproportionate rates. Many small businesses are struggling or have been forced to shut down. Families are struggling to buy basic necessities. Artists’ and new entrepreneurs’ dreams and incomes are being silently killed. People returning from or who have been impacted by the criminal justice system find themselves looking for housing, work and food in the middle of a global pandemic.
If anything is to change, it cannot be done with a traditional approach. COVID-19 has granted us a chance to be bold and courageous. African-Americans cannot depend on the same systems and people in power who created the disparities to fix them.
COVID-19 has shown how quickly we can move when lives are at stake. We need to use that same energy to save African-American lives. African-American religious institutions and community organizations are already on the ground providing support. They know the solutions. Unfortunately, the African-American community continues to be underrepresented at decisionmaking tables.
As strange as it sounds, it is primarily white men and women who are tasked to answer the questions as to why African-Americans are disproportionately affected. A decisionmaking structure that itself lacks equity cannot repair a society filled with inequities (in fact such structures perpetuate further equity gaps). With seats at the table, supported by the right platforms and enhanced resources, African-American communities can save themselves.
What actions must be taken? What resources must be put in place? These are a few suggestions:
Immediate support for families. No one should have to worry about their car getting towed or being ticketed. There should be rent forgiveness, just like mortgage payments are being suspended. Filing for unemployment needs to be streamlined for underserved communities.
Government, the private business sector and large foundations need to direct financial resources toward African-American religious institutions and community organizations: Families with incarcerated or disenfranchised loved ones need more support right now. African-American mothers and fathers are now expected to work from home and take care of their children, who often have additional needs. Compensate family members and the virtual tutors they select to teach children.
One of the many reasons African-Americans are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 is because of a longstanding mistrust toward the public health establishment. Funds toward mental health resources can help the African-American community hire mental health professionals and create their own mini clinics.
Too many young people who support their families are being locked out from the process. The African-American community needs resources to organize and create full-time jobs to serve their own communities. Some funds could be used to pay African-American owned restaurants to provide food to their communities.
Transform the system that creates equity gaps in Minnesota: Crises like COVID-19 offer us great clarity on the racial equity challenges faced in Minnesota. We must not miss this opportunity to change the decisionmaking structures by adding more African-Americans, as well as indigenous and other people of color, to sit at those tables and lead the process.
Leslie Redmond is president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Curtiss Paul DeYoung is CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches.