As the COVID-19 public health emergency intensifies, Race Forward calls on local and state governments and those who are managing emergency responses to consider closely the impact that this disease and the response may have on people and communities of color.
We call for an approach that provides accurate information and advances practices and policies based in science, and that ensures compassionate and comprehensive medical and social services for those most vulnerable to exposure. We are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk.
While we know that anyone can contract the virus, we also know that the impacts on communities of color could be severe. People of color are disproportionately likely to be in low-paying or hourly-wage jobs that make them unable to provide care or interrupt work. They are also more likely to have limited access to affordable healthcare, childcare, and transportation. People of color are more likely to face unsafe conditions inside prisons, jails, and detention centers. Funding disparities in communities of color have led to hospital closures; shortages of frontline doctors and nurses; higher incidences of chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease; housing overcrowding; and lack of quality elder care. These effects of structural racism have always been present, and can have significant ramifications as we navigate through this public health crisis.
Race Forward remains steadfast in advancing our racial justice and equity work during these unprecedented times. Following the recommendations of public health experts, we have adjusted some of the approaches we take to our work. We have arranged for all of our staff members to work remotely, and are actively working with our community partners to continue to engage with them online. We have also limited our off-site travel until guidance from health officials say otherwise. We have cancelled the Annual Membership Meeting of the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE), originally scheduled for April 14-16 in Portland, OR.
GARE is also reconvening the Rapid Response group to lift up the implications of this emergency response for communities of color. In this moment, explicitly naming race as a factor that informs how we assess "Who is most vulnerable? Who is burdened? Who benefits?" will ensure that emergency response practices and policies proactively integrate racial equity into local government responses to COVID-19. We will continue to work at the community and institutional level to identify and adapt to new methods of working and community-building in digital spaces.
Leading with our values internally in the same way we do externally, Race Forward made these adjustments in order to prioritize the health and well-being of our staff, our partners, and the communities we serve. We will continue to advance our work towards racial equity and will continue to educate, organize, and mobilize with our community and institutional partners. And, when the time is right and circumstances are more secure, we will reconvene, recharge, and rebuild.
As an organization, as a movement, and as a nation, we must love and support each other, and make decisions based in science and public health, and not out of fear. Government responses to urgent health situations have historically been driven by implicit and explicit racism. Demagogues have exploited fear, fostering secondary outbreaks of xenophobia and division. The Trump administration has used this crisis to stem travel from unaffected regions, including trying to halt asylum seekers at the Southern border. Hate-filled and racist rhetoric has stigmatized people of color as "infected" and as threats to public safety and burdens to the health care system. This public emergency has already impacted Chinese and Asian Americans through increased acts of bigotry and discrimination.
Any approach to this crisis that does not factor in systemic health inequities and that trades on racialized fears may exacerbate infection rates, through the misallocation of time and resources, and create a cascading set of additional problems to solve. Fear and structural racism make for poor science and worse policy. We strongly urge all health emergency managers to actively dispel myths and racist misinformation, to collectively work to create a system-wide response needed to end the spread of this communicable disease, and to address the needs of marginalized populations while stamping out stigma and blame.
Race Forward remains committed to these efforts, today and everyday; in this crisis, and in all of our actions. In the words of racial justice advocate and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs, "the only way to survive is by taking care of one another."