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systemic racism

Black History Month: Steps toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill which seeks to create a commission that would explore reparations for Black Americans who have faced disproportionate disadvantages due to long lasting systemic racism. If passed, this would be a major step toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

The effects of systemic racism 

Systemic racism, also referred to as structural or institutional racism, is defined as “a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity,” according to the Aspen Institute. Systemic racism is not something “a few people or institutions choose to practice.” It is ingrained in our social, economic, and political systems and has adapted over time. It identifies the parts of our history and culture that have historically privileged “whiteness” while subjecting people of color to unjust disadvantages. 

Black Lives Matter

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Since the protests from last summer following the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought many issues surrounding racism in the U.S. to the forefront of national conversation. One of the biggest topics in the fight for racial equality is that of systemic racism and dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

Systemic racism is present in all systems and institutions and prevents or makes it more challenging for people of color to participate in society and in the economy. Some areas where systemic racism is prevalent include the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, politics and education. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some of the ways in which systemic racism in healthcare, employment, and housing has impacted people of color who suffer from disproportionate rates of infection and hospitalization. 

homeless

Black Americans make up nearly half of the homeless population. (Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

Black Americans face greater, disproportionate disadvantages due to historic practices of racism and discrimination within these systems that have evolved over time. One example of this is the, now illegal, practice of redlining. 

Redlining refers to the system used by banks and the real estate industry in the 20th century to determine which neighborhoods would get loans to buy homes, and neighborhoods where people of color lived — outlined in red ink — were deemed the riskiest to invest in.

This practice made it nearly impossible for people of color to obtain loans and was a form of segregation which kept people of color living in poor, low-income, often urban areas while white people were able to afford homes in the suburbs. 

Redlining was banned in 1968, however the areas that were once deemed “dangerous” or “hazardous” by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corp are still more likely to be home to lower-income, minority residents to this day. Black Americans also make up nearly half of the homeless population today, despite making up only 13% of the population. These disproportionate numbers reflect the impact of systemic racism and shows how old systems of discrimination can become ingrained in our society and have lasting effects long after those practices have been banned. 

Steps toward dismantling racism in the U.S.

To properly dismantle systemic racism, change must be made across the board and all institutions must consciously reflect how they may be contributing to the discrimination of people of color or hindering their advancement in society. 

To address the issue moving forward, NAACP President Derrick Johnson outlined three key steps: First, we must “acknowledge that racism actually exists.” Second, we must get involved with organizations that are fighting it. And third, we must elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies. 

“Racism is not a partisan issue, and we need to stop making it a partisan issue,” Johnson said. “It’s a question of morality.”

systemic racism

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

President Biden has pledged to address the issue of systemic racism in his Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity last month where he stated that, 

“By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.  For example, an analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years.” 

Additionally, in his Proclamation on National Black History Month, 2021, President Biden reiterated these sentiments stating: 

“we are also launching a first-ever whole‑government-approach to advancing racial justice and equity across our Administration –- in health care, education, housing, our economy, our justice system, and in our electoral process.  We do so not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do, benefiting all of us in this Nation.

We do so because the soul of our Nation will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.  It is corrosive.  It is destructive.  It is costly.  We are not just morally deprived because of systemic racism, we are also less prosperous, less successful, and less secure as a Nation.”

You might be interested: How systemic racism is costing the U.S. trillions

Another step Congress is taking toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. is the possibility of granting reparations to the families of formerly enslaved African Americans. After the Civil War, reparations were promised to formerly enslaved families, but the promise was never fulfilled. Now, Congress is taking another look at the H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” 

The bill has been introduced in every legislative session since 1989, and since the last time a hearing was held on H.R. 40 in 2019, it has garnered the support of 170 members of Congress and 300 organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, NAACP and ACLU. However, in the three decades since the bill was first introduced, it has yet to reach the House floor for a vote. 

Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill.

If passed, H.R. 40 seeks to establish a commission to study “and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes,” according to H.R. 40’s text.

COVID-19 vaccine

NYC data reports racial and ethnic disparities in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 has revealed many of the racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare faced by people of color and ethnic groups. From suffering from higher disproportionate rates of infection and death, to disproportionately being more likely to end up in the hospital, communities of color and ethnic minority groups have been hit harder by the virus than white populations. Now we are seeing further disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

COVID-19 vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine is here. But which groups are being prioritized? (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

Racial and ethnic disparities in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

As the vaccine begins to roll out across various states, new data shows that there are already disparities among recipients. In New York, data revealed that while 24% of the city’s residents are Black, only 11% of Black residents received the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, White residents have received a disproportionate share of vaccines. 

The city’s demographic data is still incomplete, with many vaccine recipients not reporting their race or ethnicity. Currently, the race of about 263,000 people who received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is not known. 

However, of nearly 300,000 city residents who received one dose and whose race was recorded, about 48 percent were white, 15% were Latino, 15 percent were Asian and 11% were Black. Latino and Black residents were underrepresented: The city’s population is roughly 29% Latino and 24% Black.

The disparities were even more striking among city residents aged 65 and up: Only 9% of the roughly 125,000 older New Yorkers who received the COVID-19 vaccine were Black.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was frustrated that New Yorkers in communities of color were not getting vaccinated. 

“Clearly we do see a profound disparity that needs to be addressed aggressively and creatively,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference.

racial and ethnic disparities

Only 11% of NYC’s nearly 300,000 vaccine recipients were Black, data reveals. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

One key factor is the racial and ethnic disparities is the complex scheduling system which many in underserved communities struggle to navigate. Residents have complained about the complicated process for scheduling appointments, long wait times on phones, and sudden appointment cancellations. Younger people have been helping their older relatives navigate the system, but the issue still needs to be addressed from the top especially since data reveals that white New Yorkers are navigating the vaccination system more easily than other populations. This signals that there is an accessibility issue, preventing certain communities from navigating the system. 

Mr. de Blasio has since pledged to address the problem by improving the appointment scheduling system and increasing outreach in more languages to make the system accessible to diverse communities. 

Still many elected officials have come out to criticize and blame the Mayor for failing to reach the city’s Black and Latino residents. 

Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, deemed the city’s response to the virus as having “turned into our Katrina” — a reference to the 2005 hurricane that hit New Orleans and overwhelmingly devastated Black residents.

“We know who is most at risk and who is suffering the most — and they are mostly Black and brown,” he said. “They have been abandoned and they are dying because of it. That must end today.”

Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, said the racial and ethnic disparities shown in the data was “a scathing indictment of how broken the system is.”

NYC vaccination sites prioritizing out-of-city residents over local communities

In addition to the accessibility and outreach issues, many of the city’s vaccinations have been going to people who live outside of the city. 

It’s been reported that at least 94,000 people who live outside the city have received the COVID-19 vaccine in New York. The mayor has defended this saying that many of those vaccinated work in the city. However, the racial divide among out-of-city vaccine recipients is even greater: 59% of recipients were white while only 7% were Black. 

racial and ethnic disparities

Racial disparities among out-of-city vaccine recipients is even greater: 59% of recipients were white while only 7% were Black. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

One vaccination site was recently called out in a report by The City for prioritizing outsiders over the community’s local population where over 70% of residents are Latino. The Armory Vaccination Center in Washington Heights has since agreed to prioritize residents from the local community and give new vaccines to New Yorkers only. 

Commenting on this inequity, Mayor Blasio said, “If a site is in a community, particularly a community hard hit by COVID, it should be all about reaching out to that community and bringing people in.”

Mark Levine, a city councilman who chairs the Council’s health committee, has called for several measures to close what he called the “vaccine equity gap,” including giving residents of local ZIP codes scheduling priority in communities of color.

“We need to take action now to fix yet another egregious case of inequity in this pandemic,” Mr. Levine said.

The city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and comptroller Scott Stringer, have also called for critical changes to be made, calling the vaccine roll-out “almost criminal” and a “national embarrassment.” 

They are calling for Mayor Blasio to stop vaccinating people who live outside the city, to fix the confusing scheduling system, and provide paid time off for essential workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

You might be interested: Recent survey data reveal the effects of COVID-19 on women’s careers

Disparities across states and dwindling supplies

New York City is not the only city facing racial disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In New Jersey, about 48% of vaccine recipients were white, and only 3% were Black, despite the state’s Black population being 15%, according to state data. In Chicago, similar numbers were reported: only 15% of vaccine recipients were Black white 53% were white.

In addition to the racial disparities preventing the vaccine from reaching all demographics equally, vaccine supplies are also dwindling. 

In New York City, about 600,000 people have received a first dose of the vaccine since mid-December. Mayor Blasio has repeatedly said that the city is running out of doses and cannot accelerate the rollout without a greater supply. On Sunday, the city had only about 53,000 first doses left.

Currently there are more than 150 million people — almost half the U.S. population —eligible to be vaccinated. Each state determines who goes first, though, and currently the nation’s 21 million healthcare workers, three million residents in long-term care facilities, and high risk residents with medical conditions are top priority. 

Adults in the general population are at the back of the line and distribution issues will continue to push back eligibility unless federal and state health officials can clear up bottlenecks in distribution. If supply and distribution issues are remedied, everyone 16 and older may be eligible to receive the vaccine as early as this spring. 

To stay up-to-date and for more information on COVID-19 vaccine policies in your area, visit your state’s health website.

American Rescue Plan

How the $1.9 Trillion “American Rescue Plan” will help communities rebuild post-COVID

The twin disasters of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout have left families reeling from sickness, unemployment, and increases in food anxiety. Communities of color have especially been disproportionately affected. In December alone 140,000 jobs were lost, a majority of which were held by women and people of color. As President Biden steps into office, it is crucial that these issues be addressed with the recovery plan that will aim to combat these crises. 

American Rescue Plan

financial economy recovery after coronavirus impact design

Communities of color disproportionately affected

Since April, workers of color have faced the highest rates of pandemic-related unemployment. Data shows that Black and Latino people are now facing greater rates of unemployment than during the 2008 Great Recession. 

Additionally, people of color are heavily represented in industries that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic such as: service, production, transportation, construction, and maintenance occupations. And those who do have jobs are more likely to be employed in high-risk, high contact front-line positions, disproportionately increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

With communities suffering through economic and health crises and unemployment rates at a record high, it’s clear that extensive recovery efforts will be needed to turn the tides. 

When speaking on the issue, Alejandra Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA and former National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency for the Obama Administration said:  

“We know from the past that we cannot just invest at the top and hope for trickle-down impact, this pandemic has amplified what many of us on the ground already knew: that women and communities of color have long faced social and structural infrastructure divestment. We need to re-imagine the health and prosperity of communities and build a comprehensive social and physical infrastructure plan that will create well-paying jobs. To truly do this we need to play to where the future of our economy is going as well as the future of work.”

As President Biden begins to enact recovery measures and legislation, economic security will be a top concern. Additionally job creation will be critical in the post-COVID future as vulnerable communities continue to face insurmountable challenges. 

You might be interested: President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” Highlights 

As a first step toward addressing the nation’s economic and health crises, President Joe Biden has laid out a $1.9 trillion emergency recovery plan. 

The wide-ranging package entitled the “American Rescue Plan” aims to combat the twin crises with provisions delivering direct aid to American families, businesses and communities, and a major focus on COVID testing and vaccine production and delivery.

The “American Rescue Plan” will provide emergency measures to meet the nation’s immediate economic and health-care needs, to be followed in February by a broader relief plan. 

Biden’s proposal is divided into three major areas: $400 billion for provisions to fight COVID-19 with more vaccines and testing, while reopening schools; more than $1 trillion in direct relief to families, including through stimulus payments and increased unemployment insurance benefits; and $440 billion for aid to communities and businesses, including $350 billion in emergency funding to state, local and tribal governments.

The proposal would also increase stimulus payments from $600 to $1,400 per person. Additionally, the plan would expand a tax credit for children to $3,600 a year per child under 6, as well as $3,000 a year for children under 17. It would also extend eligibility for the credit to millions of very poor families and would dramatically boost the Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit for workers, from $530 to $1,500.

 Other new initiatives in the recovery plan include: 

  • A combined 14 weeks of paid sick and family medical leave for millions of workers
  •  Grants to more than 1 million small businesses, 
  • $35 billion toward making low-interest loans available
  • Increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour 
  • And fund other necessary relief efforts such as food and water assistance, food stamps, and funding for U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico

Biden has also called for an increase in federal unemployment benefits, from $300 per week to $400 per week for millions of jobless Americans. These benefits would also be extended through September, preventing millions of people from losing their jobless aid in March under current law.

These are only first steps, and there is clearly much work to be done to reverse the economic and health crises that have devastated the nation and its most vulnerable communities.