by AJ (Andrew Johnston) with help from mano (Emanuel da Silva)
The scene is set: our city is on lockdown, people are isolated and the world is forever changed. Millions were just laid off, handshakes are out, and anxiety is the new normal. We’ve been forced apart through social distancing, but we can see clearer than ever how intimately we rely on each other for our individual health and survival. Together we’re flattening the curve and actively saving many lives through the collective effort of each one of us. But what if we expand this collective effort to increase community health beyond simply staying home, staying six feet apart and washing our hands?
Truly increasing community health depends on the ability of each one of us to center those feeling the most impact and assuming the most risk in our inequitable society and to collectively mobilize in response. As we acknowledge how much we rely on the people who bring us food, keep our sewer system working and maintain our public transportation, we should acknowledge how important it is that they have health insurance, sick leave and a living wage. Similarly, when we witness our economy leave so many behind during “normal” times, what actions do we take to keep each other afloat in these hard times while actively reshaping a new and better normal?
Federal stimulus checks are a great opportunity for us in the South End to consider our relative privileges and how we each contribute to the health of our community. We are not all in the same situation down here, so we encourage everyone to consider how inequality shapes their social and financial situation on an individual level. To illustrate this consideration we have fictionalized two South End residents and follow their stimulus check plans.
Faker’s Barbershop has been on Rainier Avenue for 40 years. Fakie, the current owner, is a Black man who grew up in the South End with much of his extended family. He worked for the previous barber before taking over the shop 20 years ago. A handful of barbers work out of his shop, but during lockdown he has had to close the doors and explain to his employees his uncertainty about when or if they will be able to reopen. Even before the lockdown, his business was struggling due to steady gentrification in the neighborhood. The circular problem of people of color being forced out of their homes and the subsequent decline in support for the businesses still owned by people of color was a recurring topic of discussion in his barbershop.
Throughout his ownership, Fakie has donated some of his dwindling profits to folks organizing to help keep other struggling legacy businesses open and in place. Recently he got on a computer and spent hours applying for the government’s small business disaster loan, but has yet to be given any funds to cover his payroll or the mortgage payments for his shop space. He recognizes that a $1,200 check will do little to stem the anxiety of foreclosure, but he will certainly put it to good use.
He thinks critically about his relationship to the neighborhood and the various ways he invests in his community. He knows he will continue to help out his cousin with her daughter’s ongoing medical bills. He plans to buy safety gear to protect himself and his patrons as he offers in-home haircuts with sliding scale rates for those in need. He shares his potential income and extends work opportunities to his employees by connecting them with folks calling him for haircuts. He calls his older regulars to check in and help them avoid unnecessary trips to the store. He challenges himself to spend at least $1,200 supporting Black-owned businesses in Seattle during the lockdown. Throughout, he recognizes that times are tough and though he may not be positioned to donate his stimulus check, he sacrifices every day to support his business, his family, and his community who face systemic and current inequities face-on.
Elsewhere in the South End, the Blankers are a white couple who have lived in Columbia City for 8 years. They both work downtown and hire an Eritrean nanny to watch their toddler while they are gone on weekdays, but during the pandemic, they are able to work from home and watch their child. They realize the precarious situation their nanny and the millions of others who have lost their jobs now find themselves, and that a $1,200 stimulus check is hardly enough to sustain them.
The Blankers also recognize that the stimulus bill leaves out people who are undocumented, incarcerated, or who do not have social security numbers, bank accounts, or home addresses. They recognize the need to analyze their relative privilege and that this analysis should be done collectively, so they ask their diverse group of friends and neighbors about their thoughts on philanthropy. During these talks, the Blankers discuss their relative wealth privilege and the active privilege safely earning income during the pandemic affords them. They are shocked and a bit embarrassed when a friend shares a graph illustrating that as Americans’ incomes increase, their percentage of charitable giving decreases and another statistic that reveals the unfortunate trend of people with high incomes decreasing their giving during times of recession. They decide to upend this trend and are moved to shift more of their money into the community now more than ever.
They recognize that they are quite comfortable and could spare more than just their stimulus checks. They capitalize on the free time they have together right now and spend an evening discussing their future plans and goals while crafting a giving plan. They center their relationship to their neighborhood and the various ways they can be more invested in this community. They research and donate to organizations responding to this pandemic locally. They research groups like the Movement for Black Lives and others that are organizing to repair systemic inequality. They pledge to support POC restaurants, grocers and other businesses whenever possible. They keep in contact with their nanny, set-up video-chat play dates with their toddler, and offer to continue paying her salary through the lockdown. Throughout, they recognize that though times are tough and they are positioned to help by giving up some of their money to the necessary and critical work being done around them, that doesn’t make them heroes — it makes them human.
We are all human and we are all susceptible to the ills of our world, but we need to acknowledge that the pre-existing conditions of systemic racism and capitalism leave some more vulnerable than others. If we want our South End community to survive this pandemic and our coming recession, we will need to philosophically come together while we are physically apart. We need to reimagine the systems stifling our community’s health by considering our individual privileges and giving what we can to those who are most at risk. If we can do this we will protect the health of our community from more than COVID-19 — we will create a new normal that allows each of us to thrive.
MOVEMENT FOR BLACK LIVES COVID-19 FUND: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/m4blcovid19fund
SOCIAL JUSTICE FUND NW COVID-19 CRISIS FUND: https://socialjusticefund.org/covid-19-crisis-fund/
RESOURCE GENERATION (SEATTLE CHAPTER): https://resourcegeneration.org/local_chapters/seattle
AJ lives in the Othello neighborhood and has served on the South Seattle Emerald board for 4 years. He is passionate about radical philanthropy and community journalism. mano also lives in the Othello neighborhood, works for Social Justice Fund NW, and is on the board of Got Green. They are both on the steering committee of Seattle Donors of Color (SEADoC), an organizing arm of the Social Justice Fund that brings together donors of color to build a shared perspective on radical philanthropy. If you are interested in learning more about this group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image: by Susan Fried.