New data released in the past week on the COVID-19 crisis has exposed what many of us working for racial equity and justice had felt in the pit of our stomachs for weeks: that people whose household income is low and people of color, specifically African Americans, would suffer disproportionally and in great numbers. In Chicago, Black people make up a staggering 70 percent of those dying from COVID-19, yet represent less than 30 percent of the city’s population.
Along with those statistics, it is important to understand why this is happening: there is no vaccine that will insulate one from the effects of structural racism.
Like a virus, the impacts of structural racism have permeated parts of our city for generations, where vast disparities in health, economic mobility, education access and housing set the stage long ago for the devastation we’re seeing now. In fact, by laying over the latest map provided by the city on COVID-19 infection rates by zip code to a map charting Chicago’s history of redlining one can begin to visually see the linkage of past discriminatory practices and the compounded effects of what we’re seeing today.
Seemingly overnight, the world has fundamentally changed, giving us the opportunity to throw out the playbook for “how it’s always been done” and completely shift our way of thinking and doing.
In just a few weeks’ time, we have seen disruption on an unprecedented and massive scale. Societal shifts we were told could take decades or a century have taken days. Individuals who have been deemed “low-risk” are being released from incarceration. Telehealth and remote working have become the norm.
To be sure, disruption can also reveal even deeper problems. In the push to remote work and schooling, the lack of access to quality education and workforce technology within underserved communities has become glaringly obvious. Still it has also created opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to address this lack, as evidenced by the city’s new remote learning plan announced this week, which will provide 100,000 laptops to public school students.
The point is this – we have a chance to take on the red lines – a chance to truly build an equitable playing field.
The map shows in full color where our systems have fallen short over time.
Systems are made up of people.
People have choices.
People also create opportunities with those choices..
Let’s not squander our opportunity.
P.S. Chicago Beyond launched Going Beyond to support those on the frontlines, not merely in times of crisis but as a matter of course. It’s also reflective of six core equity principles that anchor our COVID-19 approach, which we hope can also serve as a tool for others forming their approach right now. Click here to learn more [click to 6 principles on website].