COVID19 — Centering POCs or Business As Usual?

Editor’s note: Equity Matters put together this great spreadsheet of articles by Journalist of Color who are covering COVID19. Support journalists of color by subscribing to their publications or making a donation to causes that keep them employed.


Artwork from Amplifer, by Lisa Saldivar: In response to COVID-19, Amplifier launched an emergency campaign with top art curators and public-health advisors from around the world looking for public health and safety messages that can help flatten the curve through education and symbols that help promote mental health, well-being, and social change work during these stressful times. Si Se Puede sets a motivational and inspirational tone with the phrasing that means Yes You Can. Yes, together, we can stop the spread of harmful misinformation of all kinds.

Amidst the COVID19 days and weeks that blend together, it feels like we’re at the point where the immediacy of the crisis is slowing down and we’re settling into a new ‘normal.’ With this new normal it is time to shift gears and recognize POC communities have been screwed and will continue to be screwed unless we can slow down and do something different amongst the COVID19 rebuild.


As we shift to looking at the future where things reopen, we search for a vaccine, and life returns to some version of ‘normal’ we need to make sure decision making is accountable to those most impacted by COVID19 – communities of color, especially for communities with multiple identities of risk and need (i.e. disability, immigrant and refugee status, elderly, low income, etc.). We need to look at the next few steps and recovery as a way to build more resilient and flexible systems, and we need to do so with transparency and in ways that build trust with communities of color.

Decisions Happened to Us

Many of the decisions of the past few weeks happened to us. As individuals or as communities we didn’t get a say in whether schools and businesses would shut down. Decisions were made by those we elected, appointed, or otherwise are in leadership roles. I don’t question the decisions or the decision making for the time – during a crisis acting fast is often important and probably saved lives. In the ‘early days’ of COVID19 government and systems were scrambling to meet the new needs. Many were unprepared to shutdown on the levels that they did, or alternatively to have to ramp up new processes and procedures quickly. Groups that had advantages before would continue to be served, those without access or privilege were again without access and privilege.

As an example, if we think about the million of kids who are now at home due to school closures, we can probably figure out which kids are part of the digital divide. With libraries, coffeeshops, and other wifi accessible locations was further diminished. Currently, students with home computers and wifi are connected having video chats with friends, accessing new content, exploring new ideas, etc. Students without technology are being left behind again.

A friend shared how her school community is trying to help families connect to home internet. They are running into frustrating problems– landlords need to allow drilling of holes to place cables, the ‘free’ isn’t completely free, no credit histories, etc. The system to access internet services wasn’t designed for low income or immigrants in mind.

Why POC voices now

Now is the time to rebuild our systems and to build them differently. When we return to school, businesses reopen, healthcare systems stabilize it will be important to rebuild them thinking about those furthest from justice – not return to business as usual.

It is easy to say, in the fall when classes are back in session we know students will be behind so we’ll just start teaching from x-point. Instead what if we remade the school system to say “What do students of color need first, how has COVID19 impacted and shaped their last six-months” and start from there. Asking families of color what the last few weeks and months look like will yield different answers than those with privilege.

Students of color are experiencing COVID19 differently. For many, it may mean a loss of financial and housing stability. For some Asian children they had to deal with the stress of name calling, harassment, and racism related to COVID19 – President Trump calling it “Chinese-virus” led the way. Fear and stress are present for many POC families who’s family members are front-line workers at grocery stores, hospitals, child care centers, etc. These experiences will need to be attended to. If we build systems focused on the actual needs of students of color, first by listening then by acting in ways that allow for self-direction and determination we’ll rebuild differently. Students of color furthest from educational justice want a robust education system, but their asks and needs will be different then those whom the system currently serves well (white students). If we return to a system aimed at returning to business as usual as quickly as possible because it serves white people and those with privilege well, we will leave communities of color behind again and exacerbate opportunity and achievement gaps.

We need to start shifting the narratives now. Even now it is hard to find quality information translated into other languages, some do it better than others. In times of social distancing, people with strong networks and ties to communities are being served better than families who don’t have support networks or resources to be ok. Let’s rebuild differently and centering voices furthest from justice.

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