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Seeking justice while staying safe during COVID-19

Confronting two pandemics

Sunita Sohrabji California Black media | 6/26/2020, midnight

“One reason I think this moment has broken things up so significantly,” he said, “is because it comes on the heels of two big phenomena: three and a half years of Donald Trump, three and a half years of what looks like the rise of fascism in America, and simplistic economic strategy. And those years have been so brutal for people of color in the United States.”

Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC and USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, noted the United States’ wide economic gap. African-Americans earn an average $17,000 per year, the least amount of any ethnic group, while White Americans earn an average $171,000, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

“What that means is that when a crisis breaks, you’ve got no choice [but] to go back to work because you’ve got no wealth cushion on which to fall,” Pastor said, referring to the large number of African-Americans forced to work outside their homes during the pandemic, even as much of the nation was sheltering in place. He also cited African-Americans’ rate of incarceration and the difficulty of obtaining employment once out, which leads to high rates of recidivism.

Speaking about this month's Supreme Court ruling that the Trump administration had incorrectly ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Pastor said, “For the last three and a half years, the Trump administration has tormented 700,000 young people who are Americans in every way. We need to center the struggle against the anti-Black racism with the idea of broadening our perspective, so that Latinos, Asian Americans, indigenous folks, and other people of color and white allies can become part of the struggle.”

Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future, likened the United States to a “plantation economy” in which most people are “living on scraps.”

“I’m really hopeful in this moment that in addition to all the racial inequalities and policing and all these things that are now being revealed, that it’s also an opportunity for us to rethink some economic pillars — how we treat workers about what is deserved in this economy and who deserves these things.”

Asset inequality needs to be addressed, Gorbis said. She challenged the notion that “hero entrepreneurs” — of the sort who predominate the Silicon Valley — deserve greater assets than other workers, and she championed the notion of universal basic assets as “a right, not something you have to earn.”

“We all must have access to certain kinds of essential assets that enable us to lead good lives,” she said.