As a growing number of COVID-19 cases are identified in New York City and across the United States, people have become conscious of public health recommendations: wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Equally important, however, is stepping up the advocacy for communities and individuals most vulnerable – not just those with underlying health conditions, but communities of color, immigrant communities, incarcerated communities, and low-income communities.
As many have said before: People are all only as safe as those members of the community who are most at risk. This means working together to demand that local and state governments adopt policies that can protect marginalized communities and individuals. It also means being conscious about language and messaging.
Organizations such as Race Forward, America’s Voice, and Family Values @ Work, have already pointed out that communities of color, low-wage workers, and incarcerated and detained populations are at disproportionate risk of being affected both by the coronavirus and the response to its spread. For these populations, the health and economic ramifications could be severe.
Asian people, in particular, have been the target of racist ire and discrimination – so much so that Asian businesses and restaurants have already suffered a significant blow.
America has a long historical relationship with othering, allowing implicit and explicit bias to influence others thinking and language, whether it be the example of distancing ourselves from “third world endemics” or referring to “inner city crime” or the “culture of poverty.” Instead, people should work together to actively dispel xenophobic myths and racist misinformation. Addressing implicit bias and racism is not always easy, but it is imperative, which is why The Opportunity Agenda developed a messaging tool to help advance these conversations.
Other forms of harmful bias have also surfaced during this pandemic. For example, people should think twice before stating that the virus “only gravely affects those who are old or those with an underlying condition,” a statement that inherently places greater value on the young and healthy. Instead, let’s direct the conversation around how everyone can work together to protect those most likely to be affected. After all, few communities know the invisible health conditions of those around them, and everyone all have someone they love who struggles with physical or mental health.
What perhaps makes the COVID-19 pandemic unique is that everyone is literally all in this together – across boundaries illusory and recognized, across nations, oceans, and the globe. Therefore, communities have a unique opportunity at hand. While the economic and racial disparities in how this epidemic could be handled are clear, now is the time to call for greater and more equal health justice. Now is the time to join communities of color in their demands for racial equity. Now is the time to protest the scapegoating of immigrants. People must push back against the language of fear and adopt language of inclusion, empowerment, and justice. Together, everyone can rise to the challenge.
Read more on the OpportunityAgenda.org.