Telling Black Stories Inclusive of Joy

This year’s Juneteenth was one of the most anticipated and celebratory in recent history. For the first time, Juneeteenth was honored on a national scale. Organizations nationwide edited their handbooks to recognize the day as a company holiday; philanthropists such as Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings, donated to historically Black colleges and offered funds and resources to Black causes and businesses. City officials like San Francisco Mayor London Breed redesigned policing policies that center the San Francisco community and in D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser unabashedly proclaimed Black Lives Matter, paying homage to the movement with a colossal mural artfully painted in a prominent city space and renaming the former 16th Street NW, Black Lives Matter Plaza. Several cities would follow this act of leadership.

Juneteenth 2020 was perhaps the first time in our nation’s recent history where Black people will remember a national effort to recognize Black humanity beyond our pain and adversities – a practice that has long been absent from philanthropy and the public sector. Philanthropy often celebrates the stories of Black people, but only in a self serving way that convinces donors that their plight can be overcome through grants and donations. This toxic practice relegates an already marginalized person to a box outlined by that single experience. Black people deserve to have stories told about the Black experience in a humane and holistic way. The coverage of Hurricane Katrina, where Black people were called looters and others were finding resources for survival, is one example.

Black people deserve to have stories told about the Black experience in a humane and holistic way.

As the digital strategist for Living Cities, I am intentional about capturing the plight and resilience of Black people in our work while also sharing stories of Black self-preservation, achievement, and joy. As a Black woman, I well-understand how Black narrative is multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, most strategic communicators who do not share this identity generally lack this understanding, showcasing perpetual stories of Black trauma with imagery reflecting the Black experience to the likes of a Great Depression – as if moments of happiness are fleeting.

While supporting the storytelling of more than a dozen major U.S. cities through our City Accelerator initiative, I noticed that some cities could not even name Black, and therefore failed at capturing the fullness of the Black experience. The cities’ narrative about Black people used limited terminology such as ‘diverse’ and ‘minorities’ in their messaging. This practice has precedent in the public sector. In 1989, the J.A. Croson v. City of Richmond decision required that government procurement programs establish a compelling interest to enact race-conscious programs. This Supreme Court decision was designed to stop the wave of local governments’ preference for Black people receiving state and city contracts in the 1980s and language of that era is still widely used today.

Philanthropists and public sector communicators must practice storytelling that is a humane representation of the Black experience. One way I have practiced holistic storytelling is with a campaign I self-asserted as ‘Black Joy Week’ that preceded June 19, 2020. That week, I posted stories on social media that were a reflection of Black resilience, progression and of course joy. View the Twitter thread here.

High-production storytelling efforts are great, however there are everyday tactics to implement that share Blackness authentically and fully. If you want to make a shift in your communications, here are four ways you can reflect Black joy when sharing stories related to the Black experience:

Publish Photos of Black People Smiling…and celebrating…in confidence…in peace…in joy.

Black people are humans, like anyone else, who experience a range of emotions beyond just sadness, seriousness and anger. Digital storytelling in philanthropy and the public sector should embrace diverse images representing the range of emotions experienced by Black people, inclusive of happy and empowering emotions.

And, your stories should exhibit variations of Blackness in hair texture and styles, eye and skin colors and abilities. My suggestion to combat the form of erasure that Croson laws enforced, is to show the faces of the group you speak of through photos.

Progress is a significant part of the Black narrative and is far too often omitted from stories of economic development centering Black people.

Incorporate Positive Statistics in Economic Development Stories

We get it. Racism has caused a deficit in Black wealth–and yet–the Black community has prevailed against all odds. Progress is a significant part of the Black narrative and is far too often omitted from stories of economic development centering Black people.

When talking about Black economy, it is imperative to source stories of advancement to accompany the statistics that highlight the disparities Black people face. Philanthropists and the public sector communicators might emphasize how:

Support Black People in Sharing Their Own Stories.

Black voices are necessary. It is imperative that philanthropists and the public sector empower members of the Black community to narrate their own stories. For example, orgs might produce a video through the lens of the person. Black people are the experts of their own experiences. By providing a platform to elevate Black voices, Black storytelling is made more equitable and resonates with the audience in a more compelling way. To support a Black narrator, you can prompt them with a question like “What brought you joy this week?”

Encourage Authenticity in Stories.

Check your biases and times when you are attempting to censor a story to fit your organizational voice/brand/goal/intentions. It is common for a Black person to understand the necessity of code-switching when integrating in groups of non-Black people. There is an understanding that acting less Black, white people are disarmed thereby making the Black person safer to be around. This action can create/surface internalized ideals about Black people that white people come to subconsciously subscribe to.

While Juneteenth inevitably highlights some of this country’s egregious mistakes it is nicknamed “Jubilee Day” to center the resilience, aspirations, and joy of the Black experience. Just as there have been calls over the last few decades to recognize Black history and futures beyond Black History Month in February, Juneteenth 2020 has brought awareness to bringing humanity into these stories and uplifting Blackness.

Philanthropy and the public sector take heed.

Powered by WPeMatico

Black Futures Matter: Bet on Black

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and it is characterized by the modern technology and internet-enabled business. Similar to the previous industrial eras, the financial sector will be largely responsible for backing the iconic companies that define this century’s wealth distribution – whether that is equitable or otherwise. This flywheel of entrepreneurship and the financial backers that enable them are the keys to achieving racial equity in our lifetimes.

However, Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) are underrepresented on both accounts: receiving funding and managing funds throughout the entire capital stack of the US financial system. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in venture capital, which is specifically designed to back founders that will build the companies of the future. Yet Black founders and funders alike receive less than 1% of capital. Worst still, the racist financial system is costing America money. This continued underinvestment deprives our society of the superior financial returns BIPOC fund managers yield and the potential racial equity obtained through wealth generation for the founders and early employees. These disparities mirror the other racial injustices that have been laid bare in 2020: the documented effects of the pandemic on the lives of people of color, the heightened mainstream attention to police violence against Black people, and the mass demonstrations that were sparked in response to these crises.

The Ally Continuum: Welcome To The Party

Moving beyond knee-jerk solidarity gestures and social media posts, some institutions have taken an encouraging anti-racist stance, committing to fund BIPOC fund managers and recognizing the pivotal role they play in achieving economic racial equity. Even without equitable funding, the median net worth of Black founders not only exceeds that of Black non-business owners by 12 times, but is generated faster than the employment income of their peers. As technology journalist, Web Smith, founder of 2pm, coined, “Make the Hire, Send the Wire” – today’s call to action for those with a platform to make anti-racist, active choices and reshape who is empowered to build the future.

The recent announcements by PayPal – with its $500M Economic Opportunity Fund commitment to Black VC GPs – and Google, via its $150M commitment, are welcome additions to the fight for economic justice and steps in the right direction. Google’s move serves as a model for doubling down on an existing commitment to the alpha-driven “fund of funds” that Plexo Capital, which has an established pipeline of BIPOC fund managers, built through long-standing relationships.

These new entrants to the party fighting for racial equality have two vital components:

  • Some of the most meaningful work will be done without fanfare or broad recognition but based on a true long-term commitment to the flywheel created by investing in BIPOC fund managers.
  • There is a need to work through existing channels to adequately manage relationships and speed up distribution of the capital.

Double Down: Amplify Those Already Doing The Work

The work is not new; the concepts are not novel. Many organizations have pioneered the work of channeling capital to BIPOC fund managers, like JoAnn Price of Fairview Capital or Mona Williams of Progress Investment Management or Renae Griffin of GCM Consortium, which largely serves corporate and public pensions. There exists no shortage of tireless champions of emerging BIPOC fund managers:

Co-conspirators Wanted

As your corporations, foundations, family offices and other institutions consider how to align your capital with your anti-racist aspirations, I urge you to practice radical collaboration with the economic justice warriors around you. This is the time to double down and super charge these existing efforts to the scale of the challenge faced. While there is certainly room for new models and partnerships to achieve strategic objectives, this is a call to action to partner with those already well versed in betting on Black. There isn’t a moment to waste on relationship building or process formulation – it’s that part of the dance where you select your partner and simply just “Make the Hire or Send the Wire.”

Chinedu Enekwe is the General Partner at Aux21 Capital and a member of the Builders & Benefactors network, a community of principally Black fund managers and investors using their power to shift how the capital systems work. In the Context of the Capital for the New Majority strategy, this community of innovators informs our exploration into new ways of using capital for addressing the country’s racial wealth gaps.

Powered by WPeMatico

Attacking the Gap: How Blackstar Stability is Investing in Black Homeownership

In the context of the Capital for the New Majority strategy, Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in The Blackstar Stability Distressed Debt Fund, which seeks to promote wealth building for people of color through homeownership, and to undo the harm of predatory lending practices and products that have rendered such wealth accumulation by brown and Black communities difficult.

In many ways, the protests that have swept the nation since George Floyd’s murder have been focused on securing rights that are but table stakes in the pursuit of the American Dream. Civil rights, voting rights, and indiscriminate access to health care and financial opportunities are fundamental building blocks to the members of any thriving democracy. Yet the yawning, ever-widening gap in wealth between Black and white Americans serves as a reminder of the disparate outcomes in our communities. In our increasingly plutocratic society, solutions that neglect to confront the structural issues driving this gap ultimately focus on losing slower rather than winning.

Black homeownership and the wealth gap

Homeownership is the largest driver of the racial wealth gap in the United States , yet few policies advance equitable and inclusive strategies. Nearly two-thirds of the household wealth for middle-income families is comprised by their principal residence. While about two-thirds of all Americans own their homes, that proportion camouflages a troubling gap where only 41% of Black families are homeowners, compared to 73% of white families. Moreover, as owners and buyers, Black families are significantly more likely to have a subprime loan (even if they qualify for a prime mortgage) or another, more predatory form of home financing.

Although attitudes shift as housing markets cycle, owning a home remains critical for middle-class families to build generational wealth. Health outcomes improve for children of homeowners, students who move less often are more successful in school, and the ability to shelter in place is now an unexpected necessity. Black families understand and crave these benefits, but over time have only consistently managed to exchange one set of predations and discriminatory practices for another. From redlining to racialized subprime loan targeting, Black homeownership rates have declined almost every year since 2004 – essentially negating the gains made since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. One very specific (and preventable) cause of the homeownership and concurrent wealth gap is the historically insidious, and surprisingly still prevalent practice, known as “Contracts-for-Deed (CFDs).”

From redlining to racialized subprime loan targeting, Black homeownership rates have declined almost every year since 2004 – essentially negating the gains made since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

History repeats itself

A CFD is a legal agreement for the sale of property in which a buyer takes possession and makes payments directly to the seller, but the seller holds the title until the full payment is made. These transactions are generally unregulated and almost always at predatory interest rates and prices above the actual value of the home. Buyers are responsible for taxes, maintenance, and insurance but do not accrue any equity until final payment and cannot deduct interest from taxes as with traditional mortgages. If the CFD buyer misses a single payment, they can be evicted, losing their home and all the work they put into it. For those buyers who beat the odds and secure title to the home, the economic benefits are a fraction of what they should have been.

Ta-Nehisi Coates concisely describes CFDs as “a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting – while offering the benefits of neither.” His seminal piece details how racially explicit housing policies from the Federal Housing Administration and other government agencies excluded Blacks from the middle-class homeownership boom of the 20th century. With the legitimate paths to homeownership blocked, Black families en masse turned to CFDs. To illustrate this, in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s homeownership wave, 75-95% of the homes sold to Blacks were as CFDs. It is estimated that those CFDs, in Chicago alone, cost Black families between $3.2 and $4.0 billion dollars.

It gets worse. After an encouraging span that led to a historical peak in 2004 of Black homeownership at roughly 50% (still just 2/3rds of the majority rate), the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 obliterated those gains. Over 6 million homes were foreclosed in the years following the recession and millions more sold at a loss, with many of the remaining owners underwater, particularly in communities of color. Black families lost their homes to foreclosure at nearly twice the rate of other groups. When a glut of devalued, vacant homes needed to be resold, the market reinvigorated an old tactic – Contracts-for-Deed.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Government Sponsored Enterprises or “GSEs”), freshly bailed out by taxpayers, sold houses in bulk to corporate and individual buyers who tripled or quadrupled the price and quickly resold them to unsophisticated or desperate families, often using CFDs. In Detroit, CFD sales outnumbered traditional mortgage-financed transactions during 2016. History repeated itself, and with the economic turmoil of COVID-19, it could happen again.

Envisioning post-pandemic Black homeownership

There is a clear and better path. Looking forward, if the pandemic leads to another wave of foreclosures, the GSEs must prohibit the use of CFDs or comparable instruments from being used by resellers of foreclosed property. They should also make better efforts to prevent foreclosure, and when it is unavoidable, to more aggressively incorporate community-minded buyers in sales processes. Consumer protections must be enhanced and enforced.

There may be more than $200 billion in CFDs currently in place in the US, significantly larger than the private student loan ($125 billion), payday loan ($90 billion), or car title loan ($4 billion) industries. Our company, Blackstar Stability, has created a fund that purchases those CFDs and converts them into traditional mortgages at reasonable interest rates. It is a simple, effective approach that earns an attractive risk-adjusted return for our investors while providing life-changing stability and lower payments to families. With the inaugural investment from Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund, Blackstar Stability plans to grow the fund to serve thousands of families and communities.

Our company, Blackstar Stability, has created a fund that purchases those CFDs and converts them into traditional mortgages at reasonable interest rates.

Current market conditions afford a unique opportunity to effectuate this change. State Attorneys General and regulators are putting pressure on some particularly egregious issuers of CFDs. Other issuers are simply looking to realize gains by liquidating their holdings in a buyer’s market. Blackstar Stability buys CFDs in bulk, then works with the families to originate a new, more affordable mortgage that gives them title to their home. Once the new mortgage is established, Blackstar Stability sells or refinances it and recycles the capital. In this context, with Living Cities as a strategic partner, Blackstar Stability is creating for CFD buyers, who are disproportionately Black and brown, the type of financing that is available to everyone else. Fair and equitable access to the housing finance system is both good policy and good business. More stable, economically strong homeowners benefit everyone while tangibly lowering the wealth gap.

Blackstar Stability is a Black-owned firm that is currently accepting qualified investors for our Distressed Debt Fund. If you are an impact investor and are interested in learning more, please contact John Green at jgreen@blackstarstability.com.

Powered by WPeMatico

What It Means to Be a Black Journalist in Pittsburgh Right Now

Michael Santiago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and one of the few people of color on staff there, stood in front of his newspaper’s building and tried to explain to reporters why his managers wouldn’t let him cover perhaps the largest protest for African American causes in history. But, he didn’t really have an explanation. On Saturday, Post-Gazette managers pulled him off of a shoot he was scheduled to do with one of the main organizers of Pittsburgh’s recent protests against racism and police violence, but they haven’t told him why.

“I haven’t gotten a reason yet,” he said today at a press conference for the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which is defending him and another Post-Gazette staff journalist, Alexis Johnson, who was also pulled from protest coverage. “It’s been two days and I’m still waiting for that answer.”

Newspaper Guild President Michael Fuoco, a reporter at the Post-Gazette, said that the paper pulled the Santiago and Johnson from protest coverage over a tweet that Johnson sent where she jokingly compared looting with pictures of trash and damage from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. The post went viral, and Johnson says Managing Editor Karen Kane told her that her tweets showed bias in her coverage. Fuoco and Guild members disagree, as does Johnson, vehemently, and have filed a grievance on her and Santiago’s behalf, saying they were denied due process. Kane didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, other Post-Gazette staffers who tweeted last week in support of Johnson under the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis were also pulled off of protest coverage. In one case, two protest stories that were written by reporters who publicly proclaimed support for Johnson were temporarily pulled from the site and then republished with words and photos modified, and without the reporters’ bylines. Fuoco said the Guild is now asking the Post-Gazette’s advertisers and the public to “exert pressure”on the newspaper over how Johnson and Santiago are being treated.

“Of course, I want to go back to work, and I want to pretend none of this ever happened because it shouldn’t have, but the reality is that it did,” Johnson said at the press conference. “To say that it didn’t make me uncomfortable, and to just sweep this under the rug would be a lie. I can’t say that I’d be jumping for joy, ready to go work under these people again.”

Black journalists across the nation are publicly struggling with how to maintain their professional composure amid widespread protests, ignited by the viral video of a white Minneapolis police officer killing African American George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. They are also publicly vexed about being targeted, harassed, and injured by police and military at demonstrations while trying to adhere to editorial rules about staying objective.

“I was taught the importance of the so-called balanced take like every other journalist, but early in my career I noticed the bar was always higher when black reporters were writing black stories,” said Deborah Todd, a former Post-Gazette reporter, in an interview. “The credibility of my sources, the accuracy of my stats and the overall news value of the topic were all picked apart in ways that felt like sabotage. For Alexis and Michael, who have to swallow their opinions and participate in this uprising as observers to do their jobs, being taken off the story is being taken out of this moment in history altogether.”

Johnson and Santiago’s trials with the newspaper have garnered the attention and support of elected officials and journalists nationally (including this journalist, who is a native of Pittsburgh and has voiced support via social media). The Guild backing them is demanding that the Post-Gazette apologize to them, reinstate them back to protest coverage, and stop retaliating against reporters. The Guild and the reporters said they have yet to hear from the paper’s management team. These black journalists are essentially working for a newspaper that won’t work for them, in a city that hasn’t worked for black people since its beginning.

The problems between the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and black journalists long predate coronavirus and the current protests against police violence. The Post-Gazette’s op-ed page is known nationally and disgracefully for unapologetically running racist editorials — ”Racism as Reason” and “Remnants of Slavery” are two stand outs — and for its lack of diversity. But it’s hard to separate the racism of the newspaper from that of the city at large — if anything it’s a reflection.

Letrell Crittenden, a black media scholar, detailed the unique pains of being a black journalist in Pittsburgh in a 2019 report he produced for Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. For that study, he interviewed 20 former and current journalists in the city to document how they felt about their treatment in newsrooms and in the city.

What he found was that journalists’ ideas and pitches for stories related to black and non-white communities “often fell on deaf ears,” that newsrooms did not cultivate environments where black journalists could express their concerns, that they did not receive “the same level of mentorship or advancement opportunities” as white journalists, and that the city itself is “unwelcoming to people of color.”  The report is clear throughout that it’s not just a Post-Gazette problem, but a “Pittsburgh problem,” that keeps African Americans from living their best life. The report reads:

The city, due to a multitude of factors, is not a place where people color can thrive. Compared to whites, they have significantly less wealth, fewer social spaces and feel less respected in their workplaces.  One under-appreciated impediment to recruiting and retaining diverse talent is that many people of color have no desire to live in areas where they believe they will not be able to thrive—even if that place has a large population of color. If a newsroom is in an area that people of color do not find appealing, many potential journalists will not be inclined to seek employment in such areas. If they do arrive, fail to plant roots, and perceive the area to live down to low expectations, they likely will not stay long.

Santiago arrived in Pittsburgh in 2018 after shooting for several national media publications including The New York Times, The Undefeated, and BuzzFeed News. One of his first big assignments landing at the Post-Gazette that year was covering the protests after Antwon Rose was killed by a police officer. He also covered protests when Rose’s killer, former East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld, was acquitted by a jury. His photos from the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 won him a Pulitzer. And despite having a job with a steady, livable income he says he immediately felt the sting of racism in Pittsburgh

“I got the illest crash course in journalism here,” says Santiago. “When I moved here I was able to move into an area that is now considered one of the best places to live, East Liberty — but I’m hyper-aware that it’s considered this only because black people got pushed out of here. There are people who grew up in this neighborhood, who now can’t move back because they can’t afford to move here.”

Johnson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and she also joined the Post-Gazette staff in 2018, after receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Temple University. Her father is a retired state trooper and her mother is a retired probation officer, which as Guild members pointed out at the press conference, makes her perhaps one of the best-qualified reporters to cover protests against police violence.

“I felt like my voice was silenced,” says Johnson. “Black journalists have been covering these stories since the beginning of time. Racism is in the fabric of our country. So whether we tweet our sentiments or how we feel, we still have to experience that trauma in real time and then show up to work and be able to report the news fairly and accurately.”

Powered by WPeMatico

‘Safe Streets’ Are Not Safe for Black Lives

This spring, a pandemic cleared cars from the streets. Many U.S. cities seized the moment by announcing new bike lanes and networks of “slow streets” that limit vehicle traffic. It is a transportation planner’s dream to hear that thousands of miles of streets are being reorganized to make room for more walking, biking and playing.

But to me, as a Black planner and community organizer, the lack of process and participatory decision-making behind these projects was an absolute nightmare. Pop-up bike lanes, guerrilla-urbanist playgrounds, and tactical walkways have been notorious for being politically crude for as long as I’ve been in the field: By design, their “quick-build” nature overrides the public feedback that is necessary for deep community support. Without that genuine engagement, I feared that pandemic-induced pedestrian street redesigns would deepen inequity and mistrust in communities that have been disenfranchised and underserved for generations.

Today, after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the open streets that drew cheers of victory in the “war on cars” a few weeks ago are filled with the blood, tears and bodies of Black people who are tired of being killed in the intersection. The signature features of long-fought battles for “complete streets” infrastructure — the beloved Elmo-red bus-only lanes and green-carpet bike lanes — are now littered with rubber bullet fragments and tear gas canisters used to suppress the voices of those bodies that were qualified as low-income enough, Black enough, and asthmatic enough to justify the funding for these features in the first place.

We didn’t need the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd to know that something was wrong with our approach to transportation planning. In fact, their deaths are two of the countless symptoms of the rotten (lead-pipe-filled) underbelly that has gone unattended to in Black and Brown communities nationwide. Yet urbanist responses to Covid-19 seemed to ignore the inequities that cause this illness to be several times more deadly to Black people in the U.S.

The announcement of open streets from Oakland to Minneapolis to New York City left me wondering how advocates for them would respond to data showing Black people make up 87% of those who are being criminalized in the name of “social distancing” in Brooklyn, where Covid-19 is still largely uncontained. Similarly, I thought about the ways Black, Brown, Indigenous People, people of color, as well as trans people, are regularly policed, harassed, and killed in the built environment. That violence could be heightened in spaces where the main understanding of personal safety centers on vehicle traffic, as opposed to valid concerns about racism, transphobia and xenophobia and the territorial entitlement to space that often shows up in newly gentrified communities.

Meanwhile, Indigenous People are virtually excluded from data analysis and relegated to the remnants of urban space. Planning processes tend to dismiss their existence and the impacts of these projects on their communities as being statistically nominal.

To make these structurally racist matters worse, just as the coronavirus exacerbates cardiovascular and respiratory issues among Black people, quick-build and open streets programs fail to address the environmental factors at the root of these health disparities. Encouraging Black residents to go outside without addressing the environmental crises that lead to Covid-19 complications is a tell-tale sign that Black well-being was a secondary (at best) intention of these projects.

Every week in America, people like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have their lives stolen because their visibility in public space goes against the ways we’ve come to understand who should have access to “outside” and how they should be allowed to access it. Without a plan to include and protect Black, Brown, Indigenous, trans, and disabled people, or a plan to address anti-Black vigilantism and police brutality, these open streets are set up to fail.

While many people have just begun their journeys to unlearn racism and walk in allyship, quick-build equity won’t pull us from the grips of structural racism that got us here. In April, when cities offered miles of road closures as a policy response to the pandemic, many Black planners — women in particular — spoke up about the dangers of excluding entire communities from public processes, and interrogated the open streets narrative for exploiting Black, Brown and Indigenous death to justify entitlement to recreation. But we were written off as the champions of “the enemy of progress” — that is, equity.

Earlier this week, the open streets in cities like Oakland and San Francisco were filled with militarized police brutalizing protesters. Racial equity statements released by urbanist organizations, architecture groups, and mobility tech startups, while unprecedented, lack policy-based backing and display no plan for true accountability moving forward. If we want to see streets filled with joy and true low-stress access to quality of life, we have to be willing to disrupt what has been the default mode in urban planning — one that centers whiteness and silences Black and Brown people and low-income communities. This dynamic plays host to white supremacy by imposing pilots and experiments on low-income communities that deserve long-term planning and participatory processes.

Every day, people across the U.S. navigate transit systems that rely on the criminalization of poverty as  a primary source of revenue and walk through streets soaked in toxic industry. If we want to prevent unintended impacts as a result of our planning practices today, our solutions and responses to these crises (and the interlocking systems of oppression that they exacerbate) must be rooted in collective decision-making, with a special emphasis on those who experience and access “outside” from a disadvantaged position in society.

In an ideal world, the response to the question of “Open to whom?” would be “everyone.” But in this climate, where there are so many variables that undermine that ideal, our responses and processes should read more like “Open, particularly for…” As we evolve our understanding of the different impacts the built environment has on different people, we should think about how our response to Covid-19 and civil unrest could atone for how hostile our urban spaces have been for so many. We must listen intently to those who’ve long studied and advocated for climate justice in communities where urban heat islands, toxic industry, blight, and air and water quality make being “outside” dangerous regardless of roadway configuration.

There are other concrete ways to truly lean into the notion of a future where Black life is possible.

  1. Public works and transportation agencies should produce and publish a concrete plan for divestment from police agencies. This includes both fiscal and values-based components: Enforcement should be replaced with accessibility and accountability, and funds to police should be redistributed to community-based organizations, direct service providers and behavioral health specialists that are equipped to uphold dignity and care for everyone within the built environment.

  2. Quick-build projects don’t solve the disparities caused by the legacy of racist planning and disinvestment. In order to be transformative, infrastructure projects should have a comprehensive environmental justice plan as a prerequisite, and basic public works should be up to date prior to implementation. This includes proper drainage and floodplain planning, addressing pavement heat indexes, upgrading underground utilities, reducing toxic industry in the vicinity, accessible curbs and crossing opportunities, adequate shelter and shade, and dignified support for curbside residents.

  3. If you want to ban cars, start by banning racism. Planners should make an intentional effort to address scarcity across all modes of transportation so as to empower freedom of movement and choice in mobility. This should include free assistive devices, bikes and bike accessories, free transit, subsidized rideshare, and economically equitable access to zero-emissions vehicles. Until Black people are no longer being hunted down by vigilantes, white supremacists and rogue police, private vehicles should be accepted as a primary mode of transportation.  

  4. Design low-stress street networks that specifically center the safety of and joy-filled travel by Black people. These routes, networks, wayfinding elements, and reparations-centered policies should derive from a participatory process that includes the voices of Black people, people living with disabilities, trans people, elders and youth.

  5. If your leadership can’t speak to racial equity, you should not be releasing a statement. If your organization, agency, or firm is/has released a racial equity statement in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, you have an obligation to ensure that your workforce is reflective of those values and the treatment of your Black employees is consistent with these values. Stop asking your one Black employee to write your equity statement overnight.

  6. Employee agreements for transit and transportation agencies need to be modified so that no one is forced to serve the needs of law enforcement. No one should face retribution or punishment for opting out.

  7. Bikeshare operating agreements should include mandatory long-term anti-displacement and equitable distribution plans to ensure bikeshare as a mode choice is equitable across the geographic region.

What is at stake here is not the probability of safe pedestrian or biking infrastructure: Based on the speed with which open streets programs were deployed this spring, we now know that those projects can and will happen with enough political will. Instead, the viral photo of young white people brunching in a curbside parklet as protesters march through the same streets demanding an end to police violence and structural racism shows what is at stake when city planning practitioners fail to consider the lives and legacies most impacted by their decisions.  

This sector must no longer exist in service of white comfort, with no regard for the bodies that carry the burden of protest when Black lives are lost in the streets. This is a moment where a concept as beautiful as freedom of movement deserves to be dignified with processes that embrace civic engagement values, consider quality of life and challenge the policing of “otherness.”

Powered by WPeMatico

This Is How Hard It Is to Invest in Black Neighborhoods

The following is an excerpt from Andre Perry’s forthcoming book, “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.

In 2018, I took a walk through Birmingham, Alabama, with real estate developer Brian Rice. Earlier that year, Rice had purchased nine buildings on 19th Street in downtown Ensley, the largest of the 99 neighborhoods within Birmingham. He was planning to bring them and the commercial corridor they were once part of back to life.

Blighted, vacant buildings interspersed with crumbling, if occupied, storefronts surrounded us. At the turn of the twentieth century, Ensley was its own municipality, with two business thoroughfares — one black, the other white — where merchants sold their wares to people who worked in the nearby steel factory of Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company.

Today, only a small number of businesses operate in the former white thoroughfare of Ensley. Half-demolished lots overshadow the occupied businesses in buildings that could very well pass as condemned. Very few people and cars passed us as we walked and talked. On this walking tour of Ensley, we stopped at one of Rice’s buildings that was partitioned into multiple units; it was constructed of brick and wood seemingly held together by decay.

While highly motivated, Rice was clear-eyed about the difficult road he and others must take. He had to kick the door several times to unstick it. When we stepped inside, what I saw inspired me to join the chorus: “Why develop this crumbling edifice?”

Real estate developer Brian Rice (right) talks to me about the building he just purchased as part of an effort to revitalize the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama.

Most of the roof had fallen to the floor. Sunlight illuminated the jumbled piles of wood, plaster, brick, and metal that covered the ground. Pieces of tin ceiling tiles dangled perilously over our heads.
The state of the building held a mirror to the unemployment, divestment, and devaluation in the entire neighborhood. To outsiders, Rice would no doubt seem to have made a bad investment by purchasing, with the help of family and friend investors, nearly an entire crumbling, commercial city block in a low-income black neighborhood. Between 1970 and 2010, the East Ensley neighborhood lost 81% of its residents, the most of any census tract in the city.

When bank lenders and outside observers asked Rice, “Why?” what they saw was the low incomes, high unemployment, and high crime in Ensley. But Rice was not looking at those realities; instead, he focused on its potential.

As we walked down 19th Street, Rice began sharing pieces of his vision. Facing an open area, he said, “I want to turn that into an outdoor pavilion patio-type space. A place for food trucks to set up.”

He pointed out the three accounting firms on the block. He wanted to convert one of the buildings to a place for nonprofits and mentoring programs. He planned to use a walkway between two buildings to host pop-up businesses.

“As you look down the street a little bit more, you will see there’s three more buildings…I want to turn that into a conference space for us and the community.”

Ensley neighborhood near downtown Birmingham, Alabama

Community development for places that have been ravaged by racism calls for multiple investments in people and places at a scale that can truly make an impact. Policies similar to those that created wealth for whites after the Great Depression could be applied again if not for Supreme Court decisions barring racial preferences. For the devalued price on property, there are black developers like Rice who can buy a city block with family and friend investors, but those individuals need financing structures to redress the systemic and historic exclusion of wealth creation in this country.

“It should be easy,” Rice said when describing getting financing to develop the properties he’d already paid for. Rice’s initial investors provided him with the cash to pay for all the buildings. He still struggled to receive a loan from a traditional bank to develop the properties. Six months after the purchase, Rice had been able to secure only $50,000, from a local bank. After an extensive process of sending numerous forms to several banks, the only returns he received were requests for more documents. Rice told me he realized then that “they’re trying to burn me out, but they don’t want to say no.”

Banks account for the majority of real estate development funding. Loans from large banks are the most sought-after source of funding by businesses, regardless of the racial background of owners.

However, white individuals receive more loans and lower interest rates than people of color.

Raise a hand

On June 20, 2019, I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance for a hearing titled “What’s Your Home Worth? A Review of the Appraisal Industry.” Representative Al Green of Texas asked a few pointed questions to a panel of witnesses composed of members of the appraisal lobby as well as me.

“Do you believe that…invidious discrimination plays a role in the devaluation of property in neighbor- hoods that are predominated with minorities, but more specifically black people?” Green asked.

“If you do believe this, raise your hand.”

I was the only one on the panel who raised a hand.

Nonplussed, Green asked another question for fear the panel didn’t understand. “If you feel black people are not being discriminated against when their property is being appraised…kindly raise your hand.”

No one on the panel raised their hand, but many guests (seemingly all white) of the panel seated directly behind the witnesses raised their hand in unison.

Green responded, “Now we’re getting some consternation.”

A few day after my hearing, Brian Rice called me, seething. After eight months, he had finally gotten an appraisal back from his bank.

“They basically said my property is worthless,” he bellowed. The appraisers valued 43,125 square feet of land at $1.04 per square foot. All eight of his properties were compared to buildings such as an abandoned car wash and a rural farm, parcels of land more than 10 miles outside of the city. The report lists the total value of his block at $45,000, which accounts for $170,000 indicated land and property value minus $125,000 in demolition costs. The low appraisal will make it difficult to get the kind of loan needed to develop an entire block.

Rice (left) walks Perry (right) through one of the Ensley properties he purchased.

Rice alleged that his appraisers intentionally devalued the Ensley properties. According to Rice, the appraisers willfully selected the worst property comparison scenarios, comparing his properties to dissimilar rural parcels more than 10 miles away. The appraisal recommended demolition as the best use, although none of the properties have been placed on a condemnation list by the city of Birmingham.

The Jefferson County property tax division had placed a much higher value on the properties than the appraisers. Rice argued that this devaluation is evidence of racism.

“I have no choice but to go public,” he told me. “I truly believe the bank is trying to force me out of business and into bankruptcy, so they can get my properties for very low.”

Rice understands that knowing your price often means fighting for it.

A confluence of obstacles

According to data from a 2020 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve, black business owners apply for bank financing at a slightly higher rate than white, Asian American, and Latino or Hispanic business owners, but more than half of applications are turned down — a rate which far exceeds any other demographic group.

More than half (53%) of black business owners who apply for financing are denied, compared to 25%, 35% and 39% of white, Asian American, and Latino or Hispanic business owners, respectively. Furthermore, research from the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) in 2017 showed that among high-sales firms (those with over $500,000 in gross receipts), white-owned businesses received loans that were worth more than double the amount lent to minority-owned firms, on average ($310,000 to $149,000, respectively). The report also found that minority-owned businesses paid an average interest rate of 7.8% compared to 6.4% for white-owned firms.

Rice pointed to the history of redlining in Ensley. “We’re in an area where banks have chosen not to invest,” he told me. With banks across the area delaying, denying, and not even responding to his requests for loans, Rice was recruiting Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and banks to open branches in Ensley, which currently has only one bank and one credit union.

CDFIs serve lower- and moderate-income individuals or communities by providing accessible financial resources. In 2018, there were more than 1,100 government-certified CDFIs located across the country managing $150 billion in total assets collectively, according to the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. According to the Opportunity Finance Network, the national association of CDFIs, of those served by CDFIs in 2017, 55% were people of color and 82% had low income or low wealth, or were from historically disinvested communities. Additionally, 27% of those served were from rural communities and 45% were women.

Birmingham, with only two certified CDFIs (at the time this chapter was written), receives significantly less CDFI funding compared to its peers of similar size.

Brian Rice’s development is exactly the kind of endeavor that another type of federal funding — the Opportunity Zone provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — is supposed to support.

Opportunity zones are a community development tool that give tax relief on unrealized capital gains — profit from the sale of property and other investments — if those revenues are reinvested in a dedicated opportunity fund, which deploys resources in designated distressed areas. Governors identified the low-income urban and rural communities that fit certain criteria designated as an opportunity zone, and there are fund managers across the country who are ready to take in funds to invest in commercial real estate, housing, infrastructure, and even existing and start-up businesses.

However, there are significantly fewer black-owned real estate developments of the size and scale of those owned by other racial groups. In addition, there are a limited number of black and Latino managers of funds from which the investment dollars would be directed. Consequently, the reinvestment of an estimated $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains would not build wealth for the people who need it.

The inability to create wealth within the black community is the reason so many black-majority places are distressed. Nonetheless, Rice’s projects fell outside of the opportunity zone that covers parts of Ensley, precluding him from those investment dollars.

Real estate developers like Rice need support from government agencies. Needing to meet construction and zoning requirements outlined in city charters, developers can’t build anything without municipal leaders’ approval. But city officials represent more than checkboxes for building permits and quality control audits. Council members and mayors sit on a perch where they can see the overall economic landscape beyond the city limits. Local elected officials control federal, state, and local resources — financial, human, and administrative —that can be deployed to help move a developer’s concept toward completion.

Developers have a much better chance of getting a project approved and financed if a mayor recognizes a project’s value relative to the mayor’s broader agenda. Mayors’ political futures hinge mightily on the accomplishments of developers like Rice. New commercial corridors and housing projects can be the physical signs of progress that voters and funders love. More importantly, great commercial and residential projects improve the quality of life for residents and consumers. City hall can’t stand in as a bank, but it can provide much-needed resources that increase the likelihood that financial markets embrace a development project. Rice and the city of Birmingham share a fate — if only they could see that.

Powered by WPeMatico

How the U.K. Failed Its Black Health-Care Workers

Please don’t forget what we do for you when the pandemic is over. Such is the message of a video released in the U.K. last week that features essential health workers from migration backgrounds on the front lines of the fight against Covid-19. The video, trending on social media with the hashtag #YouClapForMeNow, begins by borrowing anti-immigrant rhetoric to make a point about the virus: “Something’s come from overseas, and taken your jobs, made it unsafe to walk the streets.”

The video is a nod to the higher proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic people, known as BAME in Britain, in medical and other service roles. The group makes up about 20% of the National Health Service staff (compared with about 14% of the total U.K. workforce) and accounts for more than half of its Covid-19 casualties to date. They are understandably wary of the conflict between their status as national heroes, and the reality of their wider treatment as a minority by the U.K. government. In recent years, immigrant deportation policies have pushed thousands of people out of the U.K., health-care workers among them. Now, with the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, the U.K. is asking people from the same groups whose lives have been made difficult by the policies to return and help.

Among those are members of what’s known as the Windrush Generation — named for the ship HMT Empire Windrush that in 1948 brought thousands of people to the U.K. from British colonies in the Caribbean, marking the start of large-scale migration to Britain from its Empire.

The U.K. needed British-Caribbeans to help rebuild the country after World War II. That included workers for the new National Health Service, which replaced a private hospital system with a comprehensive service that was entirely free at point-of-use. While the NHS jobs provided them better wages than they would have made had they stayed in their often-impoverished communities back on the colonized islands, the Windrush experience was still difficult in the U.K.

“There were tiers of nurses, and most white nurses were steered into what was called state registered nurses where you were given managerial training and progress up the ladder,” says Dr. Juanita Cox, who’s heading up an oral history project on the Windrush Generation for the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS). “Black nurses were put in particular kinds of hospitals, more on the clinical side as opposed to ward management. You also found white nurses wound up in general hospitals, whereas the black nurses wound up in psychiatric wards or wards that required particular care. And I think this is reflected still today with the coronavirus situation at the moment. A lot of black nurses still work within the intensive care units.”

Then in 2012, the British government, under then-Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the Hostile Environment Policy, intended to deter immigration by making life difficult for any non-European Union citizens living in Britain without dual British citizenship or residency granted without a renewal requirement. Caught in that dragnet have been dozens if not hundreds of people from the Caribbean, many of whom had been living in Britain for decades after arriving in the country while traveling on Commonwealth passports that granted them the right to settle, but who were treated as foreigners simply for not having white skin.

The Hostile Environment Policy ran deeper than deportations. In 2013, the Home Office started sending letters to many older citizens of Commonwealth countries living in the U.K., telling them they were in Britain illegally and should leave or face deportation. Frequently, this was not true. Anyone who arrived in Britain from a Commonwealth country before 1973 in fact has a legal right to permanent residency, and many letter recipients had received it or were in the process of applying. Others had no idea that retaining their original citizenship could place their residency in jeopardy. They had arrived in the U.K. legally, some during a period when their birth countries were still British colonies. Deterred by the fees and bureaucratic complexity of gaining British citizenship, many had kept Caribbean passports that, before the Hostile Environment Policy’s introduction, had posed them no problems in getting work or traveling.

Suddenly, people in this group applying for jobs or residency renewal found themselves in trouble. Victims of human trafficking appealing for help — in one case a pregnant woman reporting a rape — were deported, and sometimes killed after returning to unsafe countries. Tax-paying migrants found their access to health care, housing and education barred, while the Home Office’s approach seemed to be intentionally vindictive and inflammatory. It sent billboard-carrying vans around ethnically diverse neighborhoods, ordering undocumented migrants to “Go home or face arrest.”

Faced with demands for Kafkaesque levels of documentation by the Home Office to stay in the U.K., many lost their right to work and homes, and had their bank accounts frozen, ruining livelihoods built up over decades. Others gave up and left the U.K., voluntarily but under duress, while others found themselves barred from returning to the U.K. from trips back to their birth countries. Its approach to contesting people’s right to asylum, meanwhile, was so indiscriminate that when Home Office appealed court decisions granting the right to remain in the U.K., it lost 75% of cases. At least 160 people of Caribbean descent were actively but wrongly deported, but the exact size of the group is still unknown, according to an investigation by the U.K.’s Windrush Taskforce.

“There is an unknown number of people who might have been wrongly subjected to other compliant environment measures, an unknown number of people who haven’t contacted the Taskforce and could be affected in the future and an unknown number of family and friends who the scandal has also touched,” according to “Windrush Lessons Learned Review,” a report released in March as ordered by the House of Commons.

The stories of Windrush families affected by the hostile environment policy make for harrowing reading. Gloria, a 59-year-old care worker whose case is cited in the government’s own inquiry report, had come to the U.K. legally from St. Kitts and Nevis at the age of 10, was fired from her job and left in a seven-year limbo after being told she was in Britain illegally. This was because she couldn’t secure a replacement for a missing passport — although the original had actually been lost by British social services. Seventy-year-old Pauline, a former social worker who had arrived in the U.K at age 12, found herself barred from flying home from Jamaica in 2007, even though her Jamaican passport had posed no problems with travel in the past. Stuck in Jamaica for two years, she came close to death after falling into a diabetic coma for which she could not afford treatment — treatment she would have been entitled to for free in the U.K. Former factory worker Joseph experienced yet worse. Barred from returning from Jamaica to the U.K. — where he had moved in 1956 — because his British and Commonwealth passport was not deemed valid, he died on the island because he couldn’t afford treatment for prostate cancer that would have been free in the U.K.

Aside from the health risks, many deportees stood out due to their British accents and clothing, making them especially vulnerable to becoming victims of crime. After the scandal exploded in the British media in 2018, a chilling detail emerged from a leak that helps to explain why so many people were unfairly treated. As part of the Hostile Environment Policy, Home Office officials had actually been given targets for a minimum number of people they had to deport.

“The causes of the Windrush scandal can be traced back through successive rounds of policy and legislation about immigration and nationality from the 1960s onwards, the aim of which was to restrict the eligibility of certain groups to live in the U.K.,” according to the Windrush Scandal report. “The 1971 Immigration Act confirmed that the Windrush generation had, and have, the right of abode in the U.K., but they were not given any documents to demonstrate this status. Nor were records kept. They had no reason to doubt their status, or that they belonged in the U.K.”

The U.K. is currently taking measures to help Windrush victims and their families, and thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a whole new urgency to making things right: The U.K. needs more nurses to help them weather the Covid-19 storm. The National Health Service has been asking retired nurses to return to their jobs to help care for Covid-19 patients. While some from the Windrush generation have rejected this request, citing the racism they encountered in the U.K. and its hospitals, some have returned or are considering doing so, as HuffPost UK reports — though more out of call of duty to the people afflicted rather than as an obligation to the government.

People now congregate nightly on their doorsteps to clap for the NHS workers under the banner #ClapForCarers, but the celebration has been bittersweet for BAME care staff whose faces were mostly left out of the initial #ClapForCarers videos and pictures used to highlight the nightly applause sessions.This follows years in which the British government pursued policies that made life hard for people of color with a migration background. The British government is actually obligated to do better by its health-care workers of color, according to the Race Relations Act it passed in 2000, specifically under the Public Sector Equality Policy Duty clause of that law.

Those accolades come at a high cost. To date, at least 91 health-care staff in Britain have died from coronavirus, and BAME workers are being hit disproportionately hard. The first 10 doctors to die in the U.K. while tending Covid-19 patients were all from BAME backgrounds, as were at least 38 nurses, care and support workers that have passed away. When this is the effect on a community — often invited to Britain specifically to work in public services — it is hard for anyone to feel acknowledged or accepted.

As the author E. R. Braithwaite wrote about black workers brought to England from the British colonies in his novel, “Reluctant Neighbors,” “If like genies, they could have been summoned to perform those services, then conveniently commanded to return to invisible bottles, all would have been well.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Black Businesses Left Behind in Covid-19 Relief

Social distancing is not new to black communities. “Social distancing” in the form of anti-black segregation and discrimination was U.S. law throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This created racial wealth disparities that have lingered, negatively impacting black people’s capacity to start and maintain businesses. The remnants of federally backed redlining practices, which financially isolated black people throughout the 20th century, throttled the amount of wealth black people could create from homeownership. Most entrepreneurs start businesses with the equity they’ve accrued in their homes. Consequently, black people, who’ve been over-burdened by American economic policies, require a different kind of stimulus in this coronavirus scourge era.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Cares) package is an attempt to offset an impending recession caused by mandated and voluntary social distancing, which will last until at least April 30. Congress should also pass a relief package for people who’ve suffered from the de jure and de facto social distancing of racial segregation, which still sets African Americans apart from white people today on both a spatial and economic basis.

Current financial assistance bills at the federal, state, and local levels don’t account for real wealth differences created by past anti-black policies. The bounce back from the recession will be uneven and partial, as past recoveries have been, in terms of continuing to bail out white families while ignoring the financial and social hole that “colorblind” policies have created for black families.

The Coronavirus relief package includes a $25 million earmark for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which also receives regular funding from taxpayers and private donations. While we love the Kennedy Center — we hear the recent Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance there was divine —  in D.C., where we both live, indigenous black art and cultural institutions are collapsing.

Go-Go was recently branded the official music of D.C., but that honor hasn’t come with financial support for the constellation of black businesses that support Go-Go culture. Meanwhile, there is a cohort of arts nonprofits in D.C. that receive funding from the District despite the fact they already bring in more than $1 million in income annually. Black barbershops and beauty salons —  institutions that allowed black communities to survive segregation and legal exclusion for decades — are struggling. Where’s their bailout?  

We support arts funding, especially in challenging times. But in an emergency, we need to make public dollars stretch as much as possible. If well-endowed institutions such as the Kennedy Center can get a bailout, then we believe that it is more than appropriate to create set-aside programs specifically for black institutions and businesses  that have survived a legacy of legal discrimination.

Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Through the Cares Act, Congress allocated $350 billion to the Small Business Administration to issue loans of up to $10 million per business. In addition, the Cares Act provides $10 billion for emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses to cover operating expenses. These loans become grants if the businesses keep employees on the payroll through June.

But we need to consider the structural issues that often prevent black businesses from participating in these stimulus efforts. Black people represented 12.7% of the U.S. population, but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners in 2012, according to analysis derived from the latest Census Survey of Business Owners. Asian Americans accounted for 6.9% of business owners and 4.8% of the population, while Latino or Hispanic Americans accounted for 12% of business owners and 16.4% of the population. Meanwhile, only 1% of black business owners were able to obtain loans in their founding year, compared with 7% of white entrepreneurs, according to Brookings and Gallup research.

Despite the need, Congress allocated just $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The MBDA connects “minority-owned businesses with the capital, contracts, and markets they need to grow, but yet it received not even 1% of coronavirus relief assistance.

Our research on business devaluation found that minority-owned businesses (i.e. black people, Asian Americans, Latinos or Hispanics, and American Indians) in majority-black neighborhoods earn significantly higher ratings on the consumer rating app Yelp than white-owned peers in white neighborhoods yet they receive less revenue because of the negative perception of the black neighborhoods they are in.

That research is consistent with other findings around housing prices in majority-black neighborhoods. In 2017, houses in black neighborhoods were priced 23% lower than the same kind of houses in white neighborhoods, amounting to $156 billion in accumulative lost equity in black neighborhoods throughout the United States. These losses are heirlooms of past recovery policies, including much of the New Deal, that didn’t consider race or discrimination in their stimulus packages. Colorblind” approaches have proven to hurt black people and restrict national growth.

The “black tax” – the financial penalty that people pay for living and running businesses in majority-black neighborhoods — must be accounted for in any future spending packages for the novel coronavirus recovery. We need to inject emergency funds into the people and institutions that policymakers have historically excluded from financial assistance the most, but yet are essential to the survival of black communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we have a moral imperative to distribute resources based on racial equity. When the most vulnerable communities are healthy, then all communities are better off. The novel coronavirus is showing how interconnected we all are, as the contagion is infecting people across race, class, sex, gender, and age. Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Any legislator that really wants to see the country recover from this current pandemic, must approach recovery using a racial equity framework. Political leaders must address the failures of the past that still extract wealth from black people and their assets, making them more vulnerable to inevitable shocks to the market, such as hurricanes, housing bubbles, and pandemics like the one we’re in now. If we really want a solid recovery in the short and long term, spending bills must address the needs that still exist. If we are all in this together, then we must all address the anti-black legislation that kept black people in a state of emergency before the emergence of Covid-19.

Powered by WPeMatico

Black Businesses Are Not Getting the Coronavirus Relief They Deserve

Social distancing is not new to black communities. “Social distancing” in the form of anti-black segregation and discrimination was U.S. law throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This created racial wealth disparities that have lingered, negatively impacting black people’s capacity to start and maintain businesses. The remnants of federally backed redlining practices, which financially isolated black people throughout the 20th century, throttled the amount of wealth black people could create from homeownership. Most entrepreneurs start businesses with the equity they’ve accrued in their homes. Consequently, black people, who’ve been over-burdened by American economic policies, require a different kind of stimulus in this coronavirus scourge era.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Cares) package is an attempt to offset an impending recession caused by mandated and voluntary social distancing, which will last until at least April 30. Congress should also pass a relief package for people who’ve suffered from the de jure and de facto social distancing of racial segregation, which still sets African Americans apart from white people today on both a spatial and economic basis.

Current financial assistance bills at the federal, state, and local levels don’t account for real wealth differences created by past anti-black policies. The bounce back from the recession will be uneven and partial, as past recoveries have been, in terms of continuing to bail out white families while ignoring the financial and social hole that “colorblind” policies have created for black families.

The Coronavirus relief package includes a $25 million earmark for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which also receives regular funding from taxpayers and private donations. While we love the Kennedy Center — we hear the recent Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance there was divine —  in D.C., where we both live, indigenous black art and cultural institutions are collapsing.

Go-Go was recently branded the official music of D.C., but that honor hasn’t come with financial support for the constellation of black businesses that support Go-Go culture. Meanwhile, there is a cohort of arts nonprofits in D.C. that receive funding from the District despite the fact they already bring in more than $1 million in income annually. Black barbershops and beauty salons —  institutions that allowed black communities to survive segregation and legal exclusion for decades — are struggling. Where’s their bailout?  

We support arts funding, especially in challenging times. But in an emergency, we need to make public dollars stretch as much as possible. If well-endowed institutions such as the Kennedy Center can get a bailout, then we believe that it is more than appropriate to create set-aside programs specifically for black institutions and businesses  that have survived a legacy of legal discrimination.

Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Through the Cares Act, Congress allocated $350 billion to the Small Business Administration to issue loans of up to $10 million per business. In addition, the Cares Act provides $10 billion for emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses to cover operating expenses. These loans become grants if the businesses keep employees on the payroll through June.

But we need to consider the structural issues that often prevent black businesses from participating in these stimulus efforts. Black people represented 12.7% of the U.S. population, but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners in 2012, according to analysis derived from the latest Census Survey of Business Owners. Asian Americans accounted for 6.9% of business owners and 4.8% of the population, while Latino or Hispanic Americans accounted for 12% of business owners and 16.4% of the population. Meanwhile, only 1% of black business owners were able to obtain loans in their founding year, compared with 7% of white entrepreneurs, according to Brookings and Gallup research.

Despite the need, Congress allocated just $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The MBDA connects “minority-owned businesses with the capital, contracts, and markets they need to grow, but yet it received not even 1% of coronavirus relief assistance.

Our research on business devaluation found that minority-owned businesses (i.e. black people, Asian Americans, Latinos or Hispanics, and American Indians) in majority-black neighborhoods earn significantly higher ratings on the consumer rating app Yelp than white-owned peers in white neighborhoods yet they receive less revenue because of the negative perception of the black neighborhoods they are in.

That research is consistent with other findings around housing prices in majority-black neighborhoods. In 2017, houses in black neighborhoods were priced 23% lower than the same kind of houses in white neighborhoods, amounting to $156 billion in accumulative lost equity in black neighborhoods throughout the United States. These losses are heirlooms of past recovery policies, including much of the New Deal, that didn’t consider race or discrimination in their stimulus packages. Colorblind” approaches have proven to hurt black people and restrict national growth.

The “black tax” – the financial penalty that people pay for living and running businesses in majority-black neighborhoods — must be accounted for in any future spending packages for the novel coronavirus recovery. We need to inject emergency funds into the people and institutions that policymakers have historically excluded from financial assistance the most, but yet are essential to the survival of black communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we have a moral imperative to distribute resources based on racial equity. When the most vulnerable communities are healthy, then all communities are better off. The novel coronavirus is showing how interconnected we all are, as the contagion is infecting people across race, class, sex, gender, and age. Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Any legislator that really wants to see the country recover from this current pandemic, must approach recovery using a racial equity framework. Political leaders must address the failures of the past that still extract wealth from black people and their assets, making them more vulnerable to inevitable shocks to the market, such as hurricanes, housing bubbles, and pandemics like the one we’re in now. If we really want a solid recovery in the short and long term, spending bills must address the needs that still exist. If we are all in this together, then we must all address the anti-black legislation that kept black people in a state of emergency before the emergence of Covid-19.

Powered by WPeMatico

Why You Should Stop Joking That Black People Are Immune to Coronavirus

In the past two days alone, two African-American NBA basketball players have tested positive for coronavirus, and several cases have turned up among native populations in both African and Carribbean countries, puncturing any theory that black people are immune to the disease. Yet the memes persist.

Statements like this one are surely made in jest. But there are at least some instances of actual scientific or medical arguments, which outlets including Reuters and Politifact have already debunked. While some may argue that the jokes, at least, are harmless, U.S. history evinces how unsubstantiated claims about race-based resilience to disease have led to devastating outcomes, particularly for African Americans. The impacts of such beliefs still affect how people of color are medically treated — or not — today.

The 18th-century yellow fever outbreak in the Americas is instructive here. In the 1740s, yellow fever had overtaken coastal port cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, driving people into delirium, endless vomiting, hemorrhaging, and eventually death. The physician John Lining recorded his observations about the disease in Charleston after inspecting slave ships and their cargo —including captive Africans — finding that it was almost exclusively white people who were succumbing to the disease. These observations helped reinforce already-stirring beliefs that Africans had some kind of supernatural inoculation to some of the deadliest diseases floating along the American coast.

Lining’s medical briefs became the reference manuals for another physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush, when in 1793 a yellow fever outbreak took hold of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which at the time was the nation’s capitol. Close to 20,000 people — half of the population — fled Philly that year, while many African Americans actually stayed in the city at the request of Rush, who wanted to train them to nurse, care-take, and dig graves for the thousands of people dying of yellow fever.

Rush was operating on the belief that black people were immune to the disease, and black Philadelphians believed him when he told them that they were. Rush not only was an outspoken abolitionist, but also friend of the black clergymen Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, founders of the African Methodist Episcopal church, and two of the most influential African Americans of the time.

Jones and Allen helped convince black people to stay behind to assist Rush, telling their congregations that it was their Christian duty to help care for the lives of white Philadelphians. But Rush was wrong. Many of the African Americans in his medical camp contracted the disease. Hundreds of them died. Allen became afflicted and almost died himself. While Rush was a highly respected doctor — the American Psychiatric Association would later title him the “father of American psychiatry” — he was relying on faulty claims about race and health conditions that proved fatally wrong. The Philadelphia massacre became an abject lesson in what happens when race gets bandied about amidst the rages of a major health maelstrom.

As Dr. Rana Hogarth wrote in her book Medicalizing Blackness about the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia: “The idea of innate black immunity placed an undue burden on the city’s black inhabitants. For those black people who did stay behind to help, it meant buying into a belief that at its core defined their bodies as being distinctive and unequal to whites.”

This is why Hogarth bristles a little every time she sees memes fly by on Twitter or Facebook pointing out fewer documented cases of coronavirus in Africa, or fewer deaths of African Americans, as indications that black people are somehow impervious to the disease. Such statements, whether made literally or comically, are rooted in racist beliefs that hearken back to the 18th century yellow fever disaster that almost decimated black Philadelphia.

“I can understand the idea of saying black people as a group have suffered so much, particularly if we look at medical history, that we’re going to flip the script,” said Hogarth. “But let’s just pump the brakes on this because there were very real moments in history where African Americans were believed to be immune or were peculiar in some way, and it wasn’t seen as a bonus. It was actually seen as, ‘OK, now you have to stay behind and put your lives at risk because we just assume you won’t get this,’ and that’s the part where I kind of pause and say, OK, this is not good.”

Medical theories about black immunity persisted after the Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak, refortifying political and economic justifications for keeping Africans enslaved. The thought was that black people are best suited for chattel labor because of their ability to fight off attacks on their health, even though the Philadelphia case disproved that. Some medical authorities attempted seemingly savvier takes on black immunity, adding that this superpower was linked not just to race, but to proximity to certain geographic locations and climates, mainly in the tropics. Those takes ended up as part of the Confederate South’s arguments for preserving its plantation and slave-based economy.

The climate-based argument was that certain deadly diseases couldn’t survive in warmer temperatures, which happens to be the same argument that a cruise ship line made recently about coronavirus, to convince people to keep booking trips with them. As the Miami New Times reported on March 10, Norwegian Cruises ordered sales workers to give customers scripted lines such as: “The coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise,” and, “Scientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the coronavirus.”

There is no scientific evidence that coronavirus is vulnerable at any temperature, just like the claims of earlier centuries that diseases like yellow fever can’t survive in tropical conditions or in tropical people were either overblown or flat-out false. The only thing that inoculated a person from yellow fever back then, says Hogarth, was actually contracting the disease and being lucky enough to survive. Since yellow fever originated in mosquitos native to West Africa, the black-immunity truthers of the time didn’t take into account how many Africans may have died from the disease in their native lands. Today, almost all cases of yellow fever (90%) occur in the tropical areas of Africa and South America.

Beyond climate and geography, ideas about race and health powers continued to flourish throughout the 18th century among white medical professionals, taking as gospel declarations that black skin was thicker than white skin, which emboldened doctors to experiment on black bodies. One major medical idea percolating back then was that black people feel less pain and suffering than other races — an idea that became the underpinning for the surgical experimentations that Dr. James Marion Sims performed on black women in his quest to perfect procedures for fixing incontinence and reproductive problems. Today he is considered the “father of gynecology,” though monuments of his likeness have recently been taken down in recent years.

For Hogarth, the way race was treated in health matters back then informs how we talk about both today, and not often in ways that illuminate the actual impacts of particular diseases on black people.

“So for example, you know when people say, ‘Oh the black women’s maternal mortality rate is appalling — a much higher rate than for whites,’? It’s good that we recognize that, but can we not make it about there being something wrong with black women?” said Hogarth. “Can we say that maybe black women are more likely to be discriminated against, to not be taken seriously, to have their complaints ignored than white women?”

Race, or rather racism, and health have also spelled doom for Chinese Americans. Unlike black people, they have not been deemed uniquely indestructible, but rather uniquely susceptible and contagious when it comes to disease. In the early 1900s, Chinatown was burned down in Honolulu out of a belief that the neighborhood was spreading the disease.

Conservatives (and USA Today) have been eager to label coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” or the “China virus,” further stigmatizing this ethnic population. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Chinese residents and students were getting racially harassed in the city well before the first case even turned up there.

“Personally I find the xenophobia and anti-Asian responses very troubling because the quick move from epidemic control to racist or otherwise discriminatory practices of public health has a long history and we seem to be on the precipice of writing a new chapter in that history,” said Alexandre White, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University also affiliated with the university’s department of the history of medicine. “That should be a concern not just for people of Asian descent, but any group that has been marginalized or oppressed for any reason. We can today see a lot of commonalities around racist discourse around Covid-19 and broader ideologies of racism throughout history.”

Much of that racist discourse was incubated during that 18th century medical era response to the yellow fever outbreak. Race was used to formulate policies around who should and shouldn’t be exposed to a deadly disease, and then race was weaponized in the disease’s aftermath to determine who was responsible for it.  

“In Philadelphia, [they] did what [they were] supposed to do, and look at what they get in return,” said Hogarth. “Their work is part of this long history of exasperation among African Americans who are saying that we are tired of trying to be part of this society even when we are excluded deliberately, and what we get is a minimizing of our suffering, and then blamed when things don’t go well.”

It’s clearly not a laughing matter.

Powered by WPeMatico