Via the B | e Note
Because he’s been a constant beacon of straight-no-chaser facts-based updates and recommendations on coronavirus, few are inclined to question Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That he’s been caught side-shading President Trump makes it that more delightful for many. As a result, few didn’t think to challenge Fauci’s statement on Tuesday that despite data “shin[ing] a bright light” on the fact that African Americans are getting infected and killed the most by coronavirus, “[t]here is nothing we can do about that right now except to try to get them the best possible care to avoid those complications.”
There’s a level of dismissal in that statement which allows public officials like Fauci to not try hard enough or to absolve themselves of the responsibility to search for ways to minimize the impact of a public health disaster on high-risk communities. That sort of resignation (“there’s nothing we can do about that right now”) can dangerously signal to others that (despite the revelation of a very alarming trend) current efforts should proceed as planned and that this failed national pandemic response is about the best we’ve got or will ever give – even as there’s mounting evidence the virus is impact one particular group with genocide-like precision. That also leads to the effected group itself believing that, well, if Fauci is saying it, then there is probably nothing we can do.
Fighting the Defeatist Urge
It’s defeatism on steroids, and ignorance of a powerful government’s ability to marshal vast resources when socially and politically favored communities are endangered. There is absolutely plenty we do about it … now – it’s just that federal officials have made a decision they don’t want to.
For starters, credible officials like Fauci could recommend all state and local agencies, along with federal ones like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), begin the immediate collection of all racial and income demographic data on those infected and dying. That’s an important step in helping policymakers and bureaucrats make decisions on allocation of resources or where to direct supply chains. He could also warn the broader medical community to take steps to eliminate implicit racial and income bias that’s historically hampered the diagnosis and treatment of African Americans. A part of his job would be to help ensure everyone, especially the most impacted group, is getting adequate and equitable treatment at all times. Yet, there are still reports of fewer testing sites in Black and distressed communities, as well as delays in treatment for Black patients. This is all familiar and well researched – no one should act as if these bias patters didn’t exist in the first place.
“We’re All We’ve Got”
You know the saying. The responsibility for pulling Black communities through this pandemic ultimately lies with Black communities. Our collective political, community, civic, religious, media and cultural apparatus will need to unify and step up in a moment like this. There’s quite a bit of sighing and self-imposed “is what it is,” reinforced by a daily onslaught of bad news and equal resignation from government officials. And so we’re seeing a lot of usual problem identification and not much ambitious problem resolution.
We’ve always known and see the limitations of local, state and federal response – some of it unavoidable and inadvertent; much of it throughout history very planned and deliberate. That’s not to say we don’t need it. We just understand the limitations.
So, we have to come up with a unified community response effort activated on multiple tracks, but operating simultaneously. And two things have to happen here: 1) those tracks must be planned in a centralized fashion, we can’t afford to operate in ego-driven silos right now; and 2) these activities must be highly branded and clearly communicated to our populations with a massive, mobilized awareness and education campaign around one big lead message.
We should not accept that we’re completely helpless and can’t do a thing. We’ve been in dire straits before; so we need to mobilize like our parents, grandparents and those before them did … and did so with even fewer resources than we have now. Here’s an immediate 12-step program list below (with a disclaimer that this is not the entire list).
Aside from the scattered, individual tele-townhalls and briefings popping up all over the place, the combined Black political, advocacy, religious, civic community in various metropolitan Black population centers should have their own unified and ongoing and open Zoom-based “alternative press conference” happening at least twice a week. It would be good if this unified “show of force” were happening on a national scale. There should be heavy reliance on insights and expertise from Black doctors (tap into the National Medical Association), Black nurses. There should be constant conversation about response efforts that are relevant to our needs. Every Black collective grasstops and grassroots community in every major metro area should activate this “alternative press conference or briefing” in their jurisdiction, conducting a frequent (at least twice-a-week) conversation tailored for their community audiences.
We need to push Black elected officials – local, state and federal – to relentlessly demand active tracking and collection of COVID-19 case and death data by race and income. The Congressional Black Caucus is engaged in that push now; all Black state and local legislators need to act in concert, pushing relevant state and municipal, as well as county-level agencies to do the same. Where exactly are organizations like the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the African American Mayors Association? What are they doing? And if they’re not doing anything, why do they exist?
Meanwhile, with current absence of complete and granular racial data, Black media and community organizations must come up with a combined effort to geo-map the data and push that out constantly and very publicly, campaign it on a central hashtag, in the current absence of more granular data.
Meanwhile, Black lawyers should be busy filing lawsuits. Testing sites not opening up? Lawsuit. Disparate treatment of folks in medical facilities? Lawsuits. PPE and medical supplies not reaching certain communities, but reaching others? Lawsuit. Unemployment checks not reaching certain households? Lawsuit. Small businesses in your community not getting the disaster relief funds? Lawsuit. There should be a hotline set-up, National Bar Association or someone needs to activate chapters of Black lawyers dogging these institutions out. We need to wear these institutions out – just like our ancestors used to.
Every city or place with large populations of Black people should set up a “Mutual Aid Network” system unifying all civic, community organizations, Black churches, with neighborhood block captains, ANC’s and Ward leaders, etc. as lead organizers. Every zip code or district should have a central, or direct, MAN hotline that people can call and let the network know what they need for testing, food, supplies, other resources, etc. This is what a local NAACP or Urban League chapter is supposed to do – don’t see them doing it.
Black churches should be unifying to pull together one big economic Disaster Relief Fund for all Black people in need in the area – something that is a very tightly watched over community fund that everyone can get a grant from. For example: there are approximately 660,000 Black people in Philadelphia alone. Imagine if every one of them just put $5 into a pot via CashApp, PayPal, or something. That’s $3.3M. Imagine if that was responsibly administered and a growing pot. We need to get back to raising collections for ourselves and forcing the churches – who earn billions from us every week in offerings – to get back to the business of raising funds for us. Other communities do it. It’s not rocket science. Let’s stop acting like this is impossible or we can’t visualize it.
We need to get mobilized into a “Remote the Vote” mode and make sure everyone is educated and fully ready to do “mail in balloting” between the start of early voting and November.
Lastly, as the crisis subsides, we need to start planning and reconstructing the Black Wall Street model in all of our communities. We need to bring Black owned businesses online and we need to get our money recirculated back into our communities. Rev. Al Sharpton of National Action Network commented this week that: “You got Chinatown everywhere. You got Little Italy everywhere. Every other community but ours has central business districts – but us. But they sure have their businesses set up in our communities.” We need to reactivate the economic models of early days; instead of just talking about what happened in places like Tulsa, OK, let’s now have the conversation about how we can replicate, in every place, what was in Tulsa before it was destroyed. Open our businesses, train and hire our people, stop messing around and nibbling at the edges and act like this is the life and death matter it has always been.