Digital | Divide: a series on our antiracist framework

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This series is written and edited by Seam Social Labs Founder, Tiasia O’Brien, and Board Member and antiracist activist, Bitsy Bentley

We have heard several people say that a virus is “the great equalizer”; a prime minister can fall ill with the coronavirus and so can a celebrity, or a food delivery employee. The statement of “the great equalizer” is as tone-deaf as the celebrity ensemble of “Imagine” that was viral a couple of weeks ago. Data has shown that there are greater positive cases in low wealth communities that have higher populations of people of color and immigrants. 

We also understand that there are more hospitalized cases in these communities due to underlying health conditions that impact people who live here. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “the medical community has known for a long time that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma hit minority populations, especially African Americans”.  But there is another critical layer of information not being mentioned right now in these studies and articles: the historical and social conditions that lead to pre-existing health issues. 

There is an intersection of socio-economic and public health problems that exist in these communities that increase cases of hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. In our analysis we determined there are four critical areas that affect the health conditions of community members in neighborhoods with higher cases: universal housing, food insecurity, internet access, access to PPE. 

I argue structural conditions that inform pre-existing conditions and health disparities are the main culprit for the epidemic within the pandemic which is ravaging Black communities across the U.S.A...

Rashawn Ray, David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution Tweet

Here is what you need to know

  1. Universal Housing:
    Communities greatly affected by COVID are experiencing high levels of poverty burden —more than 30% of their income is designated towards rent. This is where universal housing is critical. One plan for universal housing, as proposed by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer (also running for Mayor) is to make all developments with more than 10 units at least 25% affordable housing. This would foster the production of more housing by going beyond the general 80/20 model for developers in this city. The production of more affordable housing can reduce the poverty burden and give these communities access to money that can provide better healthcare & food options.

     

  2. Food Insecurity:
    Food Insecurity in NYC is deeply impacting these communities –specifically children. In research completed by the Food Bank for New York City, approximately 1.4 Million New Yorkers rely on emergency food programs, including soup kitchens and food pantries, each year with 339,000 of these New Yorkers being children. The economic impact of the coronavirus has increased the amount of New Yorkers who need access to these programs by 50% in less than one month. It has also decreased the number of volunteers who support these programs due to social distancing. The end result is an unbalanced equation leaving the organizations that provide free food with less operational support than before. Increasing food security is a priority for vulnerable populations especially during our greatest health and economic crisis since The Great Depression.

     

  3. Internet Access:
    Given that it is 2020, it’s easy to think everyone or most people have access to the internet. Working from home has required significant email and access to video conferencing. School now requires students to have computers and internet access. All of this and 27% of New Yorkers do not have access to the internet. In the Bronx, an area specifically hit hard by coronavirus cases, 34% of households do not have the internet at home compared to just 20% in Manhattan. None of these stats are acceptable because internet access is a clear basic need for education and work. This was the case before but this crisis has propelled this issue to the forefront for vulnerable populations.

     

  4. PPE in Communities of Color:
    On April 15th, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman announced that he partnered with a film producer and FIGS to donate PPE to black communities in need.
    “Celebrating #JackieRobinsonDay with the launch of Thomas Tull’s #Operation42, a donation of 4.2 million dollars in personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals that service the African American communities who have been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic”. Black and Latino communities have been hit incredibly hard by the coronavirus for many reasons —but at the top of this list is the fact that we are the front line workers in essential businesses. 
 

As a company focused on empowerment with a data-centered product, it is our duty to ensure this does not persist. So we are embarking on a journey of uncovering more of these issues through research but most important ---we are designing antiracist frameworks into our work.

Here is what we are doing about this

These four conditions are based on racism and historical environmental frameworks that have impacted communities of color for centuries. As Rashawn Ray, Brookings Institute Fellow and Associate Sociology Professor wrote“I argue structural conditions that inform pre-existing conditions and health disparities are the main culprit for the epidemic within the pandemic which is ravaging Black communities across the U.S. A…”.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and his team have it wrong. Yes, there are health conditions to consider in communities of color, but we as a nation would be foolish and ignorant to stay blind to the real problem at hand here: structural racism. As a company focused on empowerment with a data-centered product, it is our duty to ensure this does not persist. We initially started with an announcement on how our product can support communities stay engaged during this time, but we need to do more.

So we are embarking on a journey of uncovering more of these issues through research but most important —we are designing antiracist frameworks into our work. This series will track the research we complete and our process of integrating this framework into our product and customer outcomes. 

As we continue this journey we would love to engage you in an open conversation about our work. Connect with our team one-on-one —the more community members who collaborate with us throughout this process the stronger our outcomes will be.

>>Read our next post in this series:

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