By Jeff Thomas
Getting back to normal is what everybody wants. But is that the best thing? Should we reopen the economy and put our people back to work in our city’s tourist economy? How would that look and are there changes that need to be made? Masks for wait staff? Raises? New Orleans Mayor Cantrell has extended the stay at home ban, while neighboring parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng is waiting to see the what happens in the next couple of weeks.
What had been considered normal is a system that’s full of so many disparities that going back seems stupid and irresponsible. The Advocate’s Will Sutton wrote an incredible piece that details many of the structural health disparities that were a part of that old repressive normal. In short, the African American population in Louisiana is 30%, yet over 60% of the deaths from COVID19 have been African Americans. Read Will’s article to see how this is based more on structural oppression than individual behavior.
Discrimination is no longer just personal, and the structural inequities that exist in healthcare are just a part of the picture. Income disparities in Louisiana are shockingly harsh. In Louisiana, black men earn less than half of what equally qualified white men earn. And education makes virtually no difference. A white man who dropped out of a Louisiana high school earns more than a black man with a college degree. And the gender gap is a shocking 75%. A white male high school dropout makes $75 to every $1 earned by a black woman with a college degree.
Sooooo, not everybody wants to rush back to “normal”.
Out of work and desperate, Americans are exercising their constitutional rights. Conservative white men mock social distancing rules as they protest shutdowns across the country. In Texas, Michigan, and Minnesota mainly white men, fueled by President Donald Trump’s tweets to “Liberate” their economies, raise flags and demand they be allowed to return to work.
Getting Back to Normal
Often the effects on the African American community are an insignificant factor in decisions that affect society. Consider the facts outlined above. Or think polluting plants placed in poor black neighborhoods. Drug policy? Think about the crack epidemic. Had a war on drugs since the majority of crack addicts were black. Heroin affects primarily white suburbanites. Suddenly the war ends and we have a public health crisis. The disparities are omnipotent. The negative impacts on black lives often are relegated to second class status.
Probably the letter by Todd Murphy, President of the Jefferson Parish Chamber expresses this sentiment most completely. Mayor Cantrell extended the stay at home edict based upon the data, which shows more lives, especially African Americans (who have been disproportionately impacted) will be lost if we return to work in the near term. Murphy, in traditional fashion, is not only unconstrained by this data, but suggests that getting back to work is much more important than the lives of his African American neighbors.
COVID19 gives us a chance to end this “normal” where too many African Americans suffer and die in the greatest country on earth.