It can be argued with significant merit and historical analysis that the migration and concentration of people of color, Black and Latinx specifically, has always been intentional, engineered … and self-serving. Propaganda, gaslighting, and lies about the traits of minorities is central to the concentration of wealth. It isn’t race specific but economics. Gaining wealth is, after all, central to everyone’s goals. But in a city like Chicago, a city founded by an African American, a center of the commerce of this country, a place where so many immigrants were attracted, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there is a reason that migration to this city occurred. It is arguable that broad based ethnic communities are here because of the city’s position as a business center. However, African Americans have alternately thrived and failed. African Americans who have yet to be fully incorporated into the fabric of this nation or this city, and have always been critical to its success, as have many immigrants. Some of the most important African American owned businesses, politicians, and artists started in Chicago. At this particularly unusual time, we are presented a unique opportunity to level the playing field. We must take this chance to recognize our shared struggles and to move forward.
COVID 19 has shown that sheltering in place is a luxury afforded to those who can work or learn from home. The services afforded to most require that someone will have to get up and get out to do other jobs. During the industrial revolution schools were revamped to reflect the need for workers who would ultimately work in factories. The skills that were necessary for a manufacturing economy needed to be taught to those who relied on the agricultural economy. The look of schools changed, the schedules changed, the curriculum changed, the teaching methods changed. In a broad sense that has not happened since. While most schools were desegregated, we know that the majority of the students in our public schools are people of color. For whatever reason we have yet to adopt this process to reflect again the service and technology-based world that we now live in. To survive, this next generation will need these skills.
We have struggled with the “digital divide” for at least 2 decades. There are all kinds of definitions of that term, but most importantly it is the ability to access information and use it. Most often this lack of access has localized in African American or Latinx or poor communities. As the acceleration of change in our economy has been revealed, we have not kept up with what it means to create a pipeline of skilled workers that will be able to compete nationally and internationally. The focus has been and continues to be on how to keep a certain sector of our population under resourced which means that they become relegated to jobs that are not part of the new economy. Therefore, we continuously hear about the inability of today’s new businesses to find diverse talent.
We know now like never before that the ability to connect virtually is critical to the way business will be done. Be that going to school, applying for a job, doing a job, paying taxes, filling out the census, or voting, you must have at minimum access to the internet, a computer, and know how to use it. The ability to connect via a virtual meeting or through e-learning is a developed skill that we have not taken seriously in preparation for this possibility. Thus, we are caught flat footed and our unpreparedness has exposed itself. Especially in those communities where the internet is not widely available.
The reality is that human beings are not virtual animals or avatars. Humanity is meant to live in community, and that means we must find ways to see one another without fear. While this may not be the exact time to reconvene, we know that it is optimal to our existence. The need to divide, denigrate and destabilize has become a hallmark of our existence and is central to the use of separation through politics and technology. The commitment to making change means a determination to make sure all people participate equitably in the wealth and opportunity of this country.
The status quo was comfortable for a few but not for most. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the division of people and its ability to take the disenfranchised out of the game. In a time when technology is the saving grace for the still employed, no one can afford to be out of the game. The reason why so many of our essential workers are African American and Latinx is because of the practices we have used to exclude them from jobs that they can practice from home. There will never be a time when we can survive without essential services, but the color of your skin should never again be a determinant of what kind of job or education you can get. Our current local leadership gives us the unique opportunity to take advantage of our location and our diversity. This is when Chicago can show how diversity can lead and manage change and not hinder it. This is a time when we can make national structural change. We cannot survive this to go back to the old “normal.”
Shari E. Runner
President & CEO
The Humanity Institute