It has been said that if the true history of the Black man and woman in America were ever told, it would be enough to make a brass monkey cry.
The monkey must have shed tears in 2020 as Black people suffered mightily according to all social indicators. Fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 revealed terrible disparity in health, housing, employment, business, incarceration, mental health, and education experienced by Black people in this country.
“People’s mortgages foreclosed, people being evicted, business closing, that’s a hell of a hand to be dealt,” observed Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.
2020 brought to the forefront a need for a national reckoning with police and criminal justice reform and racial injustice tied to structural racism seen clearly in the repeated police killings of unarmed Black people. Yet, a basic question remains: Does America have the will to address these racial issues?
Ishmael Muhammad, National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan closing out 2020 with a series of lectures entitled “America’s Wicked Plan: Know Your Enemy,” said the White majority will never give serious redress to Black problems. Quoting recent comments from Minister Farrakhan during his lecture, Student Minister Muhammad asked, “Do you really know the enemy? Do you really think that he will not hesitate to destroy us when he sees his end in sight? My concern today is, do you really know your enemy?”
The country appeared galvanized by massive police protests by Black people spanning the country, bringing to the forefront the Black Lives Matter Movement following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May. But for all the marches, talk and speeches, there was no ability to pass police reform on the federal level and police killings and abuses have continued unabated even as the year closed.
And for all the recognition of disparity between Blacks and Whites, there aren’t major initiatives aimed at closing racial economic and health gaps, or any promises to do much specifically for Blacks.
Black medical suffering in 2020 was devastating, said Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, medical director of Fountain Medical Associates in Philadelphia, in an interview with The Final Call. “Our communities share common social and economic factors, already in place before the pandemic, that increase their risk for Covid-19,” Dr. Shabazz said. Those factors include living in crowded multi-family housing, working in essential fields that require public interaction as well as inconsistent or unwillingness to access health care, chronic health conditions, stress, and questionable decision-making.
“Add these social factors up, mix in Covid, and you have a perfect storm for medical catastrophe in the Black community which continues to take place,” she added.
As 2019 merged into 2020, the outlook for employment for Black people was bright with U.S. economic expansion creating better job opportunities for Black workers and others. As the Covid-19 virus spread, the employment aspirations for Black people plummeted. “While unemployment among white workers fell to 12.4 percent, Black workers’ unemployment rose to 16.8 percent, the highest in more than a decade and particularly crippling because they often have a more fragile safety net to rely on. The numbers show that Black people, along with women and young people, continue to bear the brunt of the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic,” reported USA Today.
Vulnerable and without safety nets, the economic impact spilled over into Black small businesses. “The coronavirus pandemic disproportionately impacted Black-owned businesses, which have shuttered at nearly twice the rate as small businesses in the U.S. overall, according to new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York,” observed Fortune magazine.
“The New York Fed’s data indicates that there was a 41 percent drop in the number of Black business owners between February and April of this year, as the pandemic forced huge swaths of the U.S. economy—particularly the retail, restaurant, and service sectors—to shut down.”
“The New York Fed’s report highlights many reasons why Black-owned businesses have been hurt so badly, noting that such businesses are significantly more likely to be located in COVID-19 ‘hotspots.’ Forty percent of receipts from Black-owned businesses are concentrated in only 30 counties across the U.S., most of them in metropolitan areas with large Black populations—and of those 30 counties, 19 of them are among the top 50 COVID-affected regions in the nation.”
In terms of mass incarceration, the picture for Black people remained dismal in 2020. The Department of Justice boasted in October that the incarceration rate was the lowest it has been since 1995 and Black Americans were incarcerated at the lowest rate in 30 years. “But this framing misses the bigger picture: 1.4 million Americans, who are disproportionately Black, are still incarcerated in state and federal prisons—meaning that the prison population is still five times larger than it was in 1975, before the ‘war on crime’ really took hold and the number of people under correctional control exploded,” reported the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit, non-partisan research group.
“Moreover, the slow pace of decarceration, especially for Black people and women, means we are looking at decades more of racially disparate mass incarceration in the United States unless lawmakers are willing to make much bolder changes,” said the Prison Policy Initiative.
Another area of concern for the Black community in 2020 was mental health. As the Psychiatric Times reported, “The economic downturn and staggering job losses due to the pandemic have resulted in lost health insurance, financial instability, food insecurity, and loss of housing among those lacking the safety net of savings and family resources.”
“The median net worth of white families (more than $170,000) is nearly ten times higher than Black families (less than $20,000), and Black households have been hit harder by downturns, whether in 2008 or currently. These stresses and losses increase the risks of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicide, as well as poor physical health.”
“Black individuals with preexisting mental illness are among the most vulnerable for a myriad of reasons, including greater chances that they are living in poverty and population-dense conditions, or are homeless or incarcerated. They experience stigma and marginalization related to their mental illness and bias and discrimination related to race and class. Further compounding the pandemic stressors are the well-publicized and distressing police brutality incidents that have sparked emotionally charged national protests and a collective outcry against racism and inequality,” said the Psychiatric Times.
Black people suffered badly in America by practically all measures in 2020.
“The poverty rate jumped to 11.7 percent in November, up from 9.3 percent in June. That’s nearly double the largest annual increase in poverty since the 1960s. The rise is most noticeable among Black Americans, whose poverty rate went up by 3.1 percentage points, and among those with a high school education or less, who saw a 5.1 percentage point spike,” according to CNN.
Amid the pandemic, housing for Black people has worsened in 2020. Using census data, the Los Angeles Times reported how Black Americans have long been more likely to pay unaffordable rent and mortgages than Whites. Black households faced a greater probability of being unable to pay with the current downturn, raising the risk some may be forced onto the streets or into shelters already disproportionately occupied by Black people.
The Center for American Progress said during the coronavirus pandemic, disparities by race have persisted. Non-White renters reported having less confidence in their ability to pay rent and experiencing more significant difficulties staying current on rent than their White counterparts. The coronavirus pandemic affects renters of color differently, exacerbating past inequality, and leading the path to a future of worsening inequality.
“Communities of color are the hardest hit by the eviction crisis, representing 80 percent of the vulnerable,” said the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Newark-based housing activist Fredrika Bey, chair of the New Jersey Coalition for Due Process of Law, said, “Black people in my state are facing a tsunami of housing displacement through evictions.”
New Jersey had already led the nation in foreclosures in 2018.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a hefty toll on Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities in 2020. Along with robbing them of lives and livelihoods, school shutdowns could deny students from these communities the opportunity to get the education they need to build a brighter future,” according to a study from McKinsey and Company. Learning loss is happening. It is real, and it is inequitable.
“Schools whose student bodies were made up of more than 50 percent of people of color, dropped 59 percent in math and 77 percent in reading. In comparison, schools with more than 50 percent of White students learned 69 percent of the math, and 90 percent of the reading that their peers typically have learned,” said the McKinsey and Company study.
Sharif El-Mekki, CEO for the Center For Black Educator Development in Philadelphia, told The Final Call: “We find a significant number of students didn’t have access to the internet, didn’t have access to a positive relationship with their teachers. On top of that, we had teachers who were unprepared to teach online.”
“We have many students who have so much promise, but they need all the interventions and all the support possible at the optimal level for them to be successful. And something like this cuts their legs from under them,” Mr. El-Mekki said.
2020 also brought an uptick in Black on Black crime as anger continued to rage in the community fueled by repeated exposure to violence, extreme poverty, high unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, and other social ills that create a sense of hopelessness, all exacerbated by the virus.
According to USA Today, cities across the nation—including Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Greensboro, N.C., Kansas City, Mo., Louisville, Ky., and Trenton, N.J.—have already surpassed their records for homicides this year. Others, such as Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Texas, are seeing their highest numbers in decades.
2020 also included demonstrations and political organizing, including a March on Washington over the summer led Rev. Al Sharpton, protests throughout the U.S. in response to police brutality and major voter registration drives and participation. The year culminated with the exciting virtual Nubian Leadership Circle’s National Afrikan/Black Leadership Summit. The summit brought together activists, organizations and included a keynote address by Min. Farrakhan, who called for continued organizing to bring Black leaders and groups together. The Million Man March, with widespread organizing and mass support, is the model to build a Black united front, said Min. Farrakhan. He also reiterated his call for Blacks not to take the experimental Covid-19 vaccines produced by the federal government and Big Pharma.
Dr. E. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women was a conference presenter. Its focus on unity was important, she said. “If we could speak with a united voice, we could make a greater difference and get the things that we believe are most useful to our community,” she said. “We must be united on what we want to demand.”
In 2021 we must demand humane changes, argued Larry Hamm, founder of the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark. “They don’t want a humane policy that will eliminate the suffering of the people. They want little piecemeal reforms that will make it look like change is happening. When, in fact, change is not happening,” he said.
With a new year and new president, should Black America expect major change in 2021?
“When you examine President elect Biden’s alleged progressive cabinet, it’s nothing but a fluff; it’s the icing on a rotten cake. I would venture to say the majority of Black people do not believe the government services their interest,” scholar and activist Dr. Anthony Monteiro said.
“The big question is, how do we get from where we are to where we need to be? I would say several things need to happen mainly in the area of ideas, in the world of Black people about their spiritual life, cultural life, religious life, values. I’m talking about the big ideas of whether or not existing systems can ever serve Black people. Whether or not we will continue to descend into more suffering and misery, all of which came to a real head in 2020?”
“We have to decide what constitutes Black leadership. We need serious discussion about the nature and structures of government, economics, and social life in this country. What do we expect from our religious and spiritual leaders? What do we ask of them in theology? Whether or not we are satisfied with a type of prosperity gospel or are we prepared to demand and fight for and help to bring into being a liberation theology, similar to the likes of what Jeremiah Wright taught?” he asked.
“Are we satisfied with a kind of a pop culture that reduces us to consumers of trash, idiocy, and mediocrity or do we want to return to the days when our cultural icons were people like Muhammad Ali, Curtis Mayfield, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, the great Nina Simone? Will we fight for that? Or will we accept whatever is given to us like children? We are up against a system that is only about making money and does not care about the wellbeing of the individual,” he said.
Fredrika Bey added, “I never thought I would live to see the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s prophesy of ‘The Fall of America’ in real-time, televised daily. In 2020, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Historic Million Man March, ‘atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. We were given a blueprint by Minister Farrakhan that many of us came home and took ‘the Pledge’ to heart and began doing the nation building work in our communities. Our hope is in our young Black Lives Matter people, who stand on the shoulders of the two million men who attended the march,” she said.