Who remembers back in the olden days of 2014 when Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that long piece in The Atlantic called ‘The Case for Reparations?’ It made sense to so many people who, for a moment, thought reparations wasn’t such a bad word after all.
Fast forward to 2021, and we see how America finds it difficult to use money to resolve the problems in the black community, even if the problems in the black community is due to a lack of money.
Maybe it was Donald Trump’s fault. Now we have Joe Biden who says he’ll work on the systemic racial inequalities that keep black folks far behind whites economically.
Predictors say black earnings will fall by at least 35% compared with 2018 thanks to the coronavirus recession. We look forward to how Biden will work out his priorities of closing the racial wealth gap, expanding access to affordable housing, and investing in Black entrepreneurs and communities.
He’ll obviously come up against a lot of resistance. As Julianne Malveaux, a labor economist and former president of Bennett College says, “If I tell you that Appalachia was hardest hit with COVID, you would have a special relief program for Appalachia. When I tell you that Black America is hardest hit, you have some reluctance to deal with race head on.”
If the state of Oregon is any indication how our country behaves, I can see the Biden efforts following suit.
In creating the Oregon Cares Fund, lawmakers took the rare step of explicitly naming a single racial group as the beneficiary, arguing that black residents have been subjected to unique discrimination that put them at a disadvantage during the pandemic.
Oregon has long history of anti-Black racism which fueled much of the advocacy for the state’s fund that earmarked $62 million to explicitly benefit black individuals and business owners. Now, some of the money is in limbo after lawsuits alleging racial discrimination by two whites and a Mexican depend on a judge to rule if it’s fair to set aside money just for black people and their businesses.
The good news is nearly $50 million worth of grants have been awarded to blacks from the fund, but a court has frozen the remaining amount until the litigation is resolved, a process that could take years. Some worry that lengthy litigation could mean the money is lost for good because there’s a deadline for states to spend their CARES Act funds or return what remains to the federal government.
Ironically, we’re talking about the state of Oregon, the very state that created black exclusion laws in 1844 to prevent black people from settling within its borders and then adding more laws aimed at African Americans entering Oregon in 1849 and 1857. The last of these laws was repealed in 1926. These laws, born of anti-slavery and anti-black beliefs, were often justified as a reaction to fears of black people instigating Native American uprisings.
Many of America’s economic and health disparities stem from past policies and practices that were explicitly racist. But courts have set a high bar for allowing the clear use of race in legislation. To get around the legal hurdles, policymakers tend to rely on proxies for race — like ZIP codes and socioeconomic status — when designing measures they hope will benefit marginalized racial groups.
That’s like saying, ‘We’d love to help the black community of Chester with a windfall of money, but we can’t say it’s for the black people of Chester. But we can says it’s for all of 19013.’
Early in the pandemic, various indicators appeared to show that Black businesses were suffering more severely than others. One study found that the number of Black business owners nationwide dropped by 41 percent from February to April, compared with a 32 percent decrease for Latinos, 26 percent for Asians, and 17 percent for white owners.
Black business owners had begun fretting about their livelihoods. Many did not have valuable houses they could tap for capital, and requests for government assistance had gone nowhere. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses were at the end of the line in the government’s coronavirus relief program as many struggled to find banks that would accept their applications or were disadvantaged by the terms of the program. Many minority-owned firms applied to multiple banks early in the program and were rejected, while others couldn’t get banks to respond to their applications and inquiries. Minority-owned and other very small companies were also left out at first because some banks refused to process applications that weren’t from well-established customers with multiple accounts. Lack of a banking relationship was one of the reasons the New York Federal Reserve Bank cited for disparities in PPP loan approvals to Black- and white-owned companies.
As if the cards aren’t already stacked against providing support exclusively for blacks, many who are in business are self employed which isn’t a priority for the lenders. Many blacks don’t have friends in the banking industry probably because the banking industry has never be kind to the minority seeking bank funding.
Biden has his work cut out for him if he’s sincere about changing a system that’s operates likes it’s okay to not give black people money to keep their business open, buy a home, operate a farm, go to college, or fulfill a dream.
Oregon may seem extreme in its attempt to dole out of coronavirus funds to blacks, but what’s more extreme is the entire system of excluding black people from money.
In 2019, black Oregonians received 4 of the 984 loans that the Small Business Administration issued statewide. Supporters of the fund argued that the $62 million accounted for about 4.5% of what the state received, leaving plenty for residents who are not black.
They also noted that other Covid-19-related funds were tailored in a way that allowed them to almost exclusively benefit particular racial or ethnic groups — a $10 million fund created by the state that largely benefits undocumented Latino immigrants and one created by Portland officials to aid a district of largely Asian-owned businesses.
It’s only a problem when they try to exclusively give money to black people.
As Childish Gambino sings, ‘This is America.’