A news round-up as we begin Black History Month

Today, I wanted to give you a taste of the kind of disaparities experienced by many members of the Black community. It’s sobering to realize that COVID-19 has hit communities of color harder than White communities and yet the communities of color are disproportionately left out of vaccination efforts. Community members weighed in with Salt Lake City’s new racial equity commission, experience discrimination because of their hair, where they live and the health care they receive. There is some good news too, including a focus on diversity and inclusion from Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson. Here we go:

Early data shows striking racial disparities in who’s getting the COVID-19 vaccine – (NPR/KUER) – “What we’re seeing from the states that are currently reporting data on vaccination distribution by race and ethnicity is a consistent pattern that is really showing a mismatch between who’s receiving the vaccine and who has been hardest hit by the pandemic,” says Samantha Artiga, the director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation. NBC reports that in Miami-Dade County, only 5% of the 1.7M Covid-19 vaccine doses have gone to those who identify as African American, while 50% of Fisher Island, an overwhelmingly white neighborhood, has been vaccinated. In New York City, Black and Latino residents have received half the share expected for them based on the city’s population makeup. Latino residents make up 29% of New York City residents, they comprise only 15% of the vaccine takers. The Black community accounts for a quarter of the city, but their vaccination rate is merely 11%. The White community accounts for about a third of the population but have received half of all vaccines.

Public raises policing fears, questions to new racial equity commission (Deseret News) – Thursday’s ‘listening session’ was the first of several the Salt Lake City group will undertake with the public. Facilitator Larry Schooler reported that his conversations with officers revealed that officers feel that their work is racially unbiased, and they were unclear how the commission’s work will impact them.

Black creators on TikTok say their accounts are being banned for strange and unjust reasons (Buzzfeed) – Some accounts were banned after creators said they received racist and threatening messages. Those affected told BuzzFeed News they want the platform to do better to protect Black creators, especially after announcing their Black Creators incubator program this month.

Hope and skepticism as Biden promises to address environmental racism (NPR/KUER) – Across the country, disproportionate exposure to pollution threatens the health of people of color, from Gulf Coast towns in the shadow of petrochemical plants to Indigenous communities in the West that are surrounded by oil and gas operations. Generations of systemic racism routinely put factories, refineries, landfills and factory farms in Black, brown and poor communities, exposing their residents to far greater health risks from pollution than those in whiter, more affluent places and trust in the government has been broken. 

Commentary: How COVID-19 is a symptom of structural racism (SL Trib) – What happens when COVID, high rates of maternal-fetal mortality, and structural inequities converge here in Salt Lake City? To begin to answer this complex question, the Trib interviewed OB/gyn specialist Dr. Michelle Debbink, who has been investigating COVID’s impact on prenatal health care access in the Salt Lake Valley. Debbink emphasizes that disparities in both COVID infections/deaths and maternal-fetal mortality rates are manifestations of systemic racism, of which COVID outcomes have unmasked the consequences of intersectional risk factors.

Tanisha McRae: Law should protect race-based hairstyles (SL Trib) – Individuals should be allowed to represent their cultural heritage without discrimination. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, there can be a lot of negative perception around natural race-based hairstyles. In professional and educational settings, hair styles such as braids, cornrows, bantu knots, afros, and locks are often looked at as unprofessional or not appropriate. Nationally, advocates are working to pass the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair). This law prohibits discrimination towards race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the workplace and public schools. Utah Senator Derek Kitchen is working on a Utah version, SB80. It’s been sitting in Rules since January 19.

Here are a couple of bright spots. Efforts to get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill are ramping up, after being waylaid over the last four years. The decision to have Ms. Tubman replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 began in 2016 by the Treasury secretary at the time, Jacob Lew who said that Tubman represented “the essential story of democracy.” The new bills were supposed to be unveiled last summer, 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. However, President Trump opposed the idea of replacing Jackson and his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, stopped work on that part of the currency redesign, arguing that adding new security features to the money was a more urgent priority. 

And, the Black Lives Matter movement has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Norwegian member of parliament Petter Eide said he nominated the organization because it is “bringing forward a new consciousness and awareness about racial justice. To carry forward a movement of racial justice and to spread that to other countries is very, very important. Black Lives Matter is the strongest force today doing this, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe and in Asia,” Eide told USA TODAY on Saturday.

Further, he said that the Black Lives Matter movement carries on the legacy of earlier racial justic movements, including the civil rights movement in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela won Nobel Peace Prizes. “For the Nobel Prize Committee, this is not unusual to link a fight for (racial) justice, to link that with peace,” Eide said. “There will be no peace without justice.”

Unsurprisingly, Eide woke up Saturday morning to many emails from angry Americans saying that Black Lives Matter is not peaceful. However, he said that the same arguments were made 50 years ago when Mandela and MLK were nominated. Those arguments, he said, did not mean that they weren’t working for justice or peace.

The U.S. Crisis Monitor, working with the “Bridging Divides Initiative” at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs found that more than 93% of more than 7750 demonstrations across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. were peaceful. They looked at protests held between May 26, the day after George Floyd was killed, through late August, 2020. Eide acknowledges it’s a long shot for them to win, but having the conversation is important.

Finally, the new Cox/Henderson administration are committed to diversity and inclusion. They have appointed Nubia Peñaas the new Director for the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs (MCA) and have included “equality and opportunity” as one of the six policy areas they are focused on for their first 500 days. Key goals include:

  • Supporting the Utah Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Compact.
  • Designating an equality and opportunity adviser.
  • Designating a “diverse” group of Utahns for gubernatorially appointed positions, including boards and commissions.
  • Increasing investments in training and upskilling opportunities for women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ workers.
  • Narrowing the gender pay gap with new state employee policies and help “spur change” in the private sector.

The first step to addressing a problem like racism in all its forms is to first acknowledge it exists. We’re making progress. And there is so much room for improvement.