COVID-19 And The Crisis Of Racial Capitalism

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Above photo: New York City high school students protest the lack of an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on December 1, 2014. Tony Savino/Corbis via Getty Images

This pandemic is revealing the deeper inequities for Black and brown people that have always been present in our economy and democracy but that are often papered over in ordinary times.

The escalating COVID-19 pandemic impacts all of us, but for Black and brown people in particular, the combined health and economic devastation is truly terrifying. Communities of color have higher rates of asthma, less access to health care centers, are more likely to live in food deserts and are among the most vulnerable in the face of this virus. The workers most on edge in our economy—and most likely to lose their jobs—are predominantly Black and brown. Most Americans lack even $400 of savings to call upon in times of crisis, and that lack of wealth is even more pronounced for Black and brown communities.

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Crises reveal deeper realities of power and inequity that have always been present but are often papered over in ordinary times. The conflagration of economic crisis and ailing communities may have been sparked by the novel coronavirus, but the kindling for this fire has been laid by conservatives and liberals alike with the policy choices of the past 40 years. This is not just a pandemic crisis; it is a crisis rooted in our very system of racial capitalism and in the oligarchic inequities of American politics.

From the Great Depression to world wars, we have been capable of wholly remaking our economic and political institutions to mobilize around values of democracy and economic inclusion in moments of deep crisis. But in the past, we have often fallen short of the most inclusive and expansive versions of those ideals. The New Deal saved the country from the Depression—but left women and Black and brown workers out. The response to the 2008 financial crisis eventually stabilized the economy but left most homeowners, and many Black and brown workers, struggling to regain their footing even as a bailed-out Wall Street bounced back rapidly. We need to meet this urgent moment with bold action. And we need to do so in ways that do not replicate the limitations of the past, but rather make good on our values of love, empathy, equity—and solidarity. 

This crisis illustrates just how deeply we depend on one another, and just how poorly our economy and our politics have served the foundational human needs of flourishing, of shared and equitable voice and prosperity. In this uncertain period of isolation and struggle, we are presented with greater clarity on what we need to do to emerge from this crisis: Enact real policies that are transformative for workers, that reinvest in care, and that ensure better economic resiliency and greater accountability when it comes to the needs of people. At Demos, we believe in a moral vision of a just, inclusive economy and democracy that advances the emancipation of Black and brown communities from these deadly and destructive systems and secures the freedom for all of us to thrive. To get there, we will need an unprecedented level of mobilization and boldness in this moment.

Protect access to the ballot for Black and brown voters.

Demos is more committed than ever to tearing down barriers to the vote—those that are particularly acute now but also the structural barriers that have plagued our democracy for generations. We need expansive vote by mail, more accessible voter registration, and safe in-person voting options for people with unreliable mail service so that our elections and our democracy survive this pandemic. That also means an end to discriminatory purges and voter ID laws, the provision of ballot materials in multiple languages, early voting in all states, restoring polling places that have been closed in Black and brown communities, and guaranteeing voting rights for those in jails and prisons, the District of Columbia, and territories that want them. We need to ensure that Black and brown communities and working families are not stripped of their political voice in this crisis, but are instead empowered to hold government accountable, and to demand the kind of relief our communities need.

Advance race-forward policies and analyses that address the economic response.

Demos is providing race-forward analyses and structural policy solutions to the economic collapse that the country is now experiencing. We are pushing for stabilization and stimulus packages that explicitly address racial inequities and the needs of Black and brown people before big corporations. That means continuously advocating for stimulus packages that would alleviate student debt, and public investments that would create millions of family-sustaining jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, and expand public services that support climate resilience. We are also providing analysis on how current policies are increasing consumer debt burdens, worsening the racial wealth divide, and impacting the finances of Black and brown households in the time of coronavirus.

For more information, download the 4-page longer-form version of this piece