By Jeannie Park, Donors of Color Network's Board Co-Chair
Fantasizing is not my normal mode. But sitting here in a swirl of anxiety/anger/gratitude/grief, I keep filming these fantasy movies in my head. In one, called The Cleanse, a supernatural force smites our world with a horrific plague that terrorizes humanity. But ... by halting traffic, travel and material consumption, the plague also cleans the air, the water, the land and — by showing how connected we are to each other and the planet — ultimately rescues life on Earth! In another, called The Antibody, only humans whose blood demonstrates exposure to the deadly virus are permitted to leave their homes. And guess what? Because it is mostly people of color who have had the disease, they're the ones who get to go to school, to work, to congregate. Suddenly people of color have all the power! They take over education, industry, finance, government — and whaddya know, they right wrongs, fix injustices, and along the way, solve this toilet paper thing too!
Sometimes these mental escapes feel like my only way out of the relentless grimness of our daily reality. As I write this and watch my news feed on the side, each ticking minute brings more alarm — deportations, demonstrations, the leveraging of lives for political gain. While the COVID curve may have flattened in some places, I fear the curve of racial hostility and attack is just taking off. But in my more hopeful moments, I believe it also points to a way forward, one that is rooted in cross-racial solidarity and action. And one that is reflected in the determined faces I am so privileged to see whenever the Donors of Color Network convenes on Zoom.
The Reverend Dr. William Barber shares his own hope in this interview: "Sometime in the midst of pain...that is the very moment that people get up." Through the vastness of its devastation, the corona-crisis has laid bare in an unprecedented way the systemic and interconnected way that people of color suffer and are pushed down and used to keep each other down. First came the headlines about anti-Asian hate triggered by the pandemic, the all-too-familiar racialized scapegoating—fueled by that dangerous man— that has led to murderous attacks and is likely going to get worse as the economic reckoning unfolds. And now the searing story is another one that we knew was coming: COVID-19 is killing Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander Americans in some areas at disproportionately high rates and is threatening to decimate Native American communities. When I hear a public-health leader say on NPR, "All the cards are stacked against low-income people and especially people of color," I literally say out loud, "Well, duh!" On a Donors of Color Network call later that day, Ashindi Maxton sums things up succinctly: "The systems are killing us."
This truth feels out in the open as never before. If you thought the hospital-blocking, safety-defying protests in Michigan were just about wanting to get back to work, the demonstrators holding swastikas and Confederate flags sent another message. In a state where African-Americans make up 14% of the population but 40% of the COVID deaths, it was clear where their sympathies lie, and where they don't.
The election travesty in Wisconsin also drove things home: Some would rather sicken us than let us vote. (Thank you, brave Milwaukeans, who wouldn't be stopped!) Articles about the massive erosion of voting rights in recent years and the potential for further voter suppression this fall almost always cite the devastating Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which gutted the protections of 1965's Voting Rights Act and opened the way to voting roll purges such as in Stacey Abrams's gubernatorial race in 2018. Let's not forget who was behind the Shelby County lawsuit: Edward Blum, the same strategist who said he "needed Asian plaintiffs"—and incited Asian American communities—in his crusade to end affirmative action in education. As a leader of organizations that signed amicus briefs in support of race-conscious admissions in the Harvard case, I saw Blum sit in court day after day at the trial in 2018. The day that the student witnesses of color took the stand to tell their stories, he left.
To see the manifest devaluing of people of color in this moment—the leaving of vulnerable communities of color defense-less, such as in Elmhurst, Queens, Chelsea, Mass, and the Navajo Nation, the failure to protect healthcare workers, who are disproportionately immigrants and disproportionately Asian American, and the deportation of children and attacks on Tribal sovereignty in the midst of a pandemic — should be a wake-up call to anyone who has been on the sidelines, to anyone who thinks our communities' struggles are disconnected, to anyone who would engage in only the battles with white supremacy that feel closest to home. The only defense against a divide-and-conquer assault is to unite and fight back together. And beyond that, we should be on a joint offensive to imagine and build the society that everyone deserves.
I don't know what the battle plan is — smarter people, like Abrams, do. But I know the fight looks like us. And I know that one piece that we at Donors of Color Network can hold is to give and support and illuminate and feed and fire up the fight with all the strength that our history and experience bring. When we look back at this moment, I don't want to think that I held back. Especially when my part is so relatively easy.
So I'll close with an "art burst," thankfully not in my own voice, as were the recent bursts by our inimitably talented members Ron K. Simons and Lola C. West. The release this month of the soaring song "Democracy," from the show Soft Power by David Henry Hwang (music by Jeanine Tesoro), gave me a lift, and I hope you will give it a listen too.
"Look, our country's a disaster in so many ways ..."
"Still I dream that our people can be
worthy of trust enough.
with a big heart enough,
good and grown-up enough,
to lift us up.
This is America.
We have the power."
And we do have the power. I am so grateful to all of you for the work that we are undertaking together — rooted in reality and not fantasy — to help change the storyline, anoint our own stars and rewrite the ending to be a happy one, because it is a just one.