I worry about the children who lost parents, the parents who are losing children and the communities that are being hardest hit by the ravages of COVID-19. To “woke” Americans, the idea that Blacks are suffering disproportionately under the weight of COVID-19, is hardly novel. Dating back at least 50 years, there are studies showing that we have the most dangerous jobs, in the most dangerous communities, under the least favorable conditions. But this pandemic demands a response that’s both more organized and more specific.
The first responders, health workers, truckers drivers, drive through restaurant workers, Uber drivers, refuse carriers, pizza delivery guys, postal workers who are barely managing to keep basic services flowing, will develop the illness and will disproportionately die from COVID-19. The response should be more than “isn’t that a shame”, or, like COVID-19 leader Dr. Fauci said earlier this week, “…there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
For once, the U.S. must address the glaring issue playing out with irrefutable proof: the brunt of this pandemic in the U.S. is being borne by Black folk. And we haven’t even reached the Deep South yet.
Race specific remedies for race based problems are out of style in current U.S. jurisprudence. But there is another way: we should establish a bi-partisan, independent victim compensation fund, similar to the unlimited fund that runs through 2090 to help first responders, school children and others injured on 911. President Obama extended the time for filing claims with the fund until December 18, 2020. President Trump signed a bill for permanent funding. This approach has the advantage of some insulation from the political process. Now, the test will be whether this current pandemic will lead to the same conclusion that we reached two decades ago, and earlier this year. We like to believe that when Americans, through no fault of their own, risk health, life and limb for the country, we will take care of them and their offspring, even if they are Black. And of course the COVID-19 victims fund beneficiaries will not be mostly Black folk, but Black folk will get a chance to prove the value of their patriotism in a way rarely acknowledged or measured.
This op-ed was contributed by Janice Mathis, executive director at the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a nonprofit organization with the mission to advance the opportunities and the quality of life for African American women, their families and communities.