There was an article published May 8, 2020, in The Atlantic by staff writer Adam Serwer. In the article, Serwer stated, and I quote, “The pandemic has exposed the bitter terms of our racial contract, which deems certain lives of greater value than others.”
I like Serwer’s term “racial contract.” He used the sad and tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, the African American young man that was killed in Georgia by two white men as he jogged, to eloquently speak about the racial divide in this nation. Arbery now joins a long and growing list of African American men and women who have died at the hands of on- and off-duty white police officers and white common citizens with no sense of justice brought about in these cases.
Serwer titled his article, “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying.” With it being reported that African Americans contract and die from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in society, the title of the article is somewhat unnerving. Why is this?
As the country sets to reopen, will those in power find it necessary to put in place measures to keep whom they consider the highly affected group (African Americans) away from the more pristine segment (whites) in the society? Could the unspoken racial contract give rise to new COVID-19 policies calling for separation of African Americans from the dominant population to reduce the spread of the deadly virus? Remember, the goal is to “keep society safe.”
While Serwer’s use of the term racial contract is new to me, what’s not new to me is implementation of the racial contract, which began when the first 19 Black slaves stepped onto the shores of America at Point Comfort, Virginia, near Jamestown, in 1619. COVID-19 is just the latest event that shines a bright spotlight on the racial contract with clarity, revealing that this reality is a part of the DNA fabric of America, which is why Serwer can accurately use the expression, “our racial contract” in the subheading to his article. The question then is, “Are African Americans considered part of the society that is trying to be kept safe?”
With this background, I will take a journey that some will not be able to go with me on for belief that it is too far to the left. That’s OK. But I believe if what follows was put into practice on a massive scale, it could help uplift African Americans everywhere.
As a race, African Americans have never been valued in America. Collectively, the race is looked upon as a liability, whose presence causes an embarrassment to society and is often deemed as having no redeemable asset value in any form. To that end, while opening back up the country will benefit the dominant ethnic group, African Americans are not part of the reasoning for the push to reopen the country.
This shelter-in-place, or lockdown, mode shows African Americans that they can live with less movement and with less spending. The question is, can African Americans continue in a shelter-in-place mode right now, and not rush back out to join the reopening that is mainly for white America? And, can African Americans stay in lockdown mode a while longer and avoid crowding back in so soon and begin heavy “SPENDING”?
Personally, I will share how the front side of COVID-19 is preparing me for the backside of the coronavirus. This lockdown shows me that I can live with less movement and with less spending, which results in more savings in many areas of my life. To date, financial resources on gas spending have been saved, there has been less wear and tear on my automobiles and on my body, and I have been able to enjoy a higher level of peace of mind.
I’ve concluded that remaining in my lockdown mode longer is doable. If, as African Americans, we spend at the rate that economic reports say we do, the broader establishment would soon feel our collective absence from the marketplace economically, if such a stand was taken. I believe that economic fallout from such action could be used to leverage a better outcome for African Americans, especially relating to demonstrating a higher degree of self-sufficiency among the race.
No, the less fortunate among us were not overlooked in this writing. For some in our community, the lockdown has exposed them to even more challenges than they had prior to COVID-19 and staying in a lockdown mode may not be an option. With 16.7% of African Americans out of work, for some, an immediate return to the marketplace is a must. Despite that fact, for many others, the pressure to jump back in is not as great.
Just as the African American vote impacts the outcome of an election, reports show that the infusion of African American dollars provides a tremendous boost to America’s economy. The latest reports on African American buying power reveal that African American consumers spend more than $1.2 trillion a year. Withholding just a small fraction of this buying power from the economy will definitely be noticed.
Taking a drastic and radical stand like what is proposed here will prompt the business community and other fair-minded persons in society to join with African Americans in the push for a more fair and just society. If not, what do African Americans have to lose by withholding their financial resources a little while longer? History demonstrates that African Americans have made tremendous progress while living with the racial contract since their arrival in America, and there is no indication that they will not continue to make positive, incremental progress.
What’s presented here is radical. But continually being subjected to the racial contract in America and African Americans continuing to move about as though all is well has brought me to a point like the one civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer came to in her day when she said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
For me, I am “fed up with being fed up” with how African Americans are treated in America.
Robert Louis Shepard is founder and principal of The Shepard Institute in Rockville, Maryland.