Over the past month, we’ve been inundated with messages from influencers, philanthropists, individuals, companies, and any moderately progressive institution about how the normal never served the masses. It’s true, the inequity that COVID-19 has laid bare for all to see (or anyone will to), is centuries in the making.
Activist voices have highlighted these issues for decades, they are not new or accidental— essential workers on the frontlines are disproportionately people of color. In New York City, 75% of frontline workers are Black, Latino, and Asian. Today, African Americans and Latinos are dying at twice the rate of Caucasians. Asian communities are being openly harassed. Native Americans are falling ill and dying at a rate far disproportionate to their population, being pushed to open access to their lands. In parts of our country, low-income students everywhere are without access to devices and broadband necessary for remote learning.
Anastasia Reesa Tomkin essay on How White People Conquered the Non-Profit Industry could just as easily relate to any other industry. In particular, her commentary on individual and organizational “uncanny ability to talk in circles about an issue, without ever taking action on the issue. In fact, the conversation is glorified as though it were the action itself”.
That last point is the reason PPP left out 90% of minority applicants, it’s the reason for women of color with children are suffering the worst of the layoffs, why Native communities are being strong-armed to open their lands for recreational use, and why miles-long lines at the food bank are commonplace in urban areas across the country. It’s the reason that in progressive havens like Seattle, with two of the world's richest men and most successful companies, thousands of low-income students lack access to remote learning.
Conversations alone are not going to shift the normal. We don’t get points for quoting Brenee Brown or showcasing our outrage on social media. Most companies aren’t excited about creating an equitable new normal, we don’t have a government that values raising the minimum wage, federal paid family leave, paid sick leave, or even a stimulus check (if you happen to be married to someone without a SSN#). States are backing companies seeking to reopen at the risk of widespread CV19 infections. In Vegas, an eatery asked employees to sign a waiver releasing the company from liability before coming back to work, elsewhere companies are furloughing workers to claim bailout funds (instead of laying them off), investors are doubling down on their portfolios and stalling on new investments, philanthropists are concerned with vetting BIPOC and WoC-led organizations, and retailers are trying to sell us all manner of goods we no longer need.
A new normal will not be delivered to us. Creating a new normal, one that values all life will require action by everyone — especially those of us with vast privilege.
- Get closer to the ground — make an effort and start to become aware of inequities in your region. Look for them, they exist in broad daylight. Your grocery store might be well-stocked, but a few miles in a different direction there’s likely a long line at the food bank and that’s frankly unacceptable.
- Use your influence — if you’re in a position of power at work or in community, use it to shift how your company operates. Speak up often. Pause, consider how actions will affect long term outcomes. Remember, the rebuild will take a diverse group (don’t disproportionately layoff women and people of color).
- Connect with community — No matter who you are, community is key to surviving the pandemic. Find yours. Last year, I started Future for Us on the premise that women of color needed their own space — an effort that 16 months later is 11,000 strong, currently offering weekly opportunities for hundreds to connect.
- Give — if you’re a philanthropist (or advising them) give now, give generously, and give to community-based organizations. Give to people that are on the front lines. They may not have fancy websites and beautiful reports, but they have the solutions. Give to address systemic change.
- Lend your time, expertise, connections — it’ll take more than money to build a new normal. Online networks such as the FBomb Breakfast Club are great places to ask-and-offer. Coworking spaces such as The Riveter and The Wing are pivoting to make online connections more seamless.
- Register to Vote — more than anything else, we need a new administration, and one that values the contributions of all communities, races/ethnicities, genders, and more. You can do #1–5 in connection to just the November elections.
A new normal isn’t going to be handed to us, but if Arundhati Roy’s words hold true, building it is entirely possible.
“Pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”