These last few months have been hard. As the novel coronavirus began to appear in the Deep South, we could see then the trajectory of this virus crashing into the existing virus of racism in our communities. We could see then the reality we are experiencing now. Underlying disparities in access to health care, financial services, healthy food, employment and affordable housing would be the very factors contributing to a disproportionate amount of cases and deaths in the Black community.
On April 1, Hope Policy Institute produced a map showing the intersection of persistent poverty counties lack of hospitals, and racial demographics in the Deep South, making the case for the depths of policy responses that would be needed to prevent health and economic devastation. To date, these responses have fallen short and the predicted fears are unfolding before our very eyes. Kiyadh Burt, Policy Analyst, reminds us that “Black and Brown communities in the Deep South have long been vulnerable and have suffered the worst consequences of economic downturns and natural disasters. COVID-19 is the latest calamity to befall these communities and without adequate protections, they face immeasurable loss.”
The COVID-19 pandemic layers on top of the crisis of mass incarceration, which is particularly pronounced in the Deep South. Four of five of the Deep South states in HOPE’s region are in the top ten states for rates of incarceration in this country – disproportionately affecting Black people. The economic and human consequences of mass incarceration are deep and severe, and extend beyond the prison walls. The collateral consequences of incarceration lead to barriers accessing jobs, housing and education, in addition to leaving people in even deeper financial straits than before incarceration.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, are the latest lives lost in the long history of the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. This history dates back to slavery, is codified through the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, was state-sanctioned through convict leasing and now fueled through mass incarceration. Calandra Davis, Policy Analyst, underscores the urgency of this moment, “Now more than ever, Black people and their allies must engage urgently in advocacy, innovative organizing, and with the resilience that has prevailed years of marginalization and systemic oppression.”
Economic inequalities that trace back to the enslavement of Black people, and perpetuated by a financial system with its roots in the same, are bearing down with extreme oppression. Even before COVID-19, White households hold 10 times the wealth of Black households on average. In each of the five states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee more than 65% of Black households are liquid asset poor, where the highest rate for White households in these states is 42%. For small businesses, the reach of Black-owned businesses are vast, and so are the disparities in size and access to capital. Sara Miller, Policy Analyst, puts these disparities in context: “While there are multiple factors that contribute the racial wealth gap, none of them can be separated from the history of systematic discrimination. This must be addressed directly in future policy responses.”
George Floyd lived at the intersection of criminal and economic justice: a Black man, recently freed from jail, lost his life at the hands of the police over a dispute about a $20 bill. And, his death occurred against a backdrop of the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, where Black people are dying at higher rates; economic stimulus payments are insufficient to cover basic expenses of housing payments, rent, utility, medical bills, student loan debt payments and food; and more than 36 million people are unemployed. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of Black business owners has fallen 40%, and simultaneously, yet Black-owned businesses been largely left behind by the $600 billion federal small business relief program. All of these economic burdens of COVID-19 are falling most heavily on communities already carrying them, and those most likely to be locked out of relief.
As a community development financial institution embedded in the most economically distressed regions of the communities, where the majority of the population is Black, we recognize that our work towards economic justice is inextricably connected with the long history of the civil rights movement’s pursuit of racial justice. Through the Hope Policy Institute, this means working day in and day out to root out racial disparities in our financial system and community development tools that leave communities left behind and left out. This includes using our stories, experiences and data to increase financial inclusion in the Deep South, calling for increased public and private investment in Deep South and lifting up the voices of Deep South communities to inform policy and practices at the national level.
Grieving the loss of lives due to racial discrimination, the Hope Policy Institute stands with its communities in the Deep South and across the country, today and always, seeking justice.
*This article was originally published by Hope Policy Institute on June 3.
Photo by Hope Policy Institute.