By LaKeshia Myers
Whenever tragedy strikes in the United States, people of color worry just a tad bit more than white Americans. Why? Because disasters and tragedies have the nasty habit of being layered atop institutional policies that traditionally have kept many minority groups behind the eight ball. For black Americans, a crisis can be detrimental and have a long-lasting effect for generations to come. For instance, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, the majority of deaths and displacements occurred in predominantly black communities. Nearly fifteen years later, the Lower 9th Ward and Bywater communities still bear the scars of homes, churches, and businesses that never returned.
The same occurred during the housing crisis of 2008-2010; according to an article published last year by Wisconsin Public Radio the Milwaukee metro area ranks third in the United States among cities with the lowest percentage of households where the primary owner is black, according U.S. Census Bureau data (WPR, 2019). The article points out that Just over seven percent of the Milwaukee area’s African American population owned a home in 2017, while the median household income among African Americans in Milwaukee is $28,928.
The same scenario will likely unfold before our eyes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Milwaukee County, several small minority-owned businesses are struggling to remain afloat because of necessary restrictions on indoor dining, nightclubs, barber and beauty salons, daycare centers, and health spas. Outreach from the federal government has been slow, while state and local officials have delivered information and/or relief in fragments. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), with help from the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest disaster loans to aid small businesses during this time.
Conversely, in the federal relief package passed by the U.S. Senate last week, airlines stand to receive a $60 billion bailout. Also included in the proposed Coronavirus stimulus package, each adult citizen is slated to receive at minimum a $1200 payment, states receive resources for additional testing and protective equipment. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia, (which is a federal district with no voting congressional representation) is slated to receive only $500 million, while each state will receive roughly $1.25 billion each.
I would be remised if I did not mention that Washington, D.C. is home to more than 630,000 people; pays more in federal taxes than twenty-two states and more per capita than any state; has a larger population than two states; and is almost always treated as a state for federal funding. So, what could possibly be the problem you ask? Washington, D.C. is a majority black city.
Why else would Florida congressman Matt Gaetz question giving Howard University, a historically black college located in Washington, D.C., $13 million to combat Coronavirus. He was clearly unaware that since Howard was directly chartered by Congress, it does not access the same federal funds as other colleges and universities. It receives an annual federal appropriation and has since the 1920s. Without emergency funding provided by the stimulus bill, Howard would get nothing and have no funding available to help treat residents of D.C. at its teaching hospital on campus.
Milwaukee is no different than D.C. As the largest city in the state of Wisconsin and the only majority-minority city; there is no doubt in my mind that forces are working against us. How else do we explain the sudden closure of all early voting sites in the city? Could it be fear that the Mid-town Center was the highest performing early voting location? Fear that the African-American and Hispanic electorate has been activated and are in search of new leadership in various positions of city government? Or could this be the reason that the Republican-led state legislature is refusing to call an executive session to deal with the mounting Coronavirus? Fear that Milwaukee will “get too much” or lack of concern because the majority of deaths in the City of Milwaukee have been middle aged African American men?
I don’t doubt that we will make it through this crisis, but I know that without diligent and deliberate support, minority-owned small businesses will struggle and some will close. In times like these, I am reminded of what my grandfather used to say, “When America gets a cold, Black folks get the flu”.