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PPP loans are symptoms of institutional racism.

From the psychological effects of isolation to the financial impacts of unemployment, the pandemic was difficult on nearly everyone. To ease some of these hardships, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offered emergency loans to businesses that needed financial assistance to keep workers employed. This Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped small businesses keep our economy moving forward in this tough time.

Small businesses are important to the overall economy, of course, but also to the Black and Brown community. As of 2019, minority-owned businesses accounted for nearly 20% of all U.S. companies. That’s over 1 million businesses across the country. And most of them qualify as small businesses. In fact, 99.9% of minority-owned businesses have fewer than 500 employees, according to the SBA. This same group employs 8.7 million workers across the country. The vitality of minority entrepreneurship cannot be ignored.

So why was this group so underrepresented in PPP loan distribution?

Recent investigations have revealed that the SBA distributed more loans in mostly white areas than in minority-dominated areas. The SBA awarded loans to the former group at a rate 1.7 higher than in majority-Black areas and 1.2 times higher than in mostly Asian areas. This trend holds up in cities across the country. In other words, the problem was widespread.

Did the SBA look at every loan request, then at the business owners’ race? Of course not. The answer to this disparity lies in how the SBA chose to distribute those loans.

Rather than passing out the emergency funding itself, the SBA used certified lenders to facilitate distribution. Credit unions, banks, and other lenders were given a huge amount of responsibility in the efforts to revive the economy. These are the same institutions that have historically discriminated against Black and Brown borrowers, dating all the way back to their very founding. This permeating prejudice helps explain the growing racial wealth gap in America, too.

Therein lies the problem. The SBA put this money in the hands of companies that have always discriminated against minorities. Such an oversight is just as bad, if not worse, than outright, deliberate discrimination. It’s certainly more indicting of the “system” that some politicians still claim rewards those who work hard. By passing PPP loan buck, as it were, the government reminded us that systemic racism exists.

If there is a bright spot in all of this, it’s the rise of online lenders. Many underserved communities turned to these more accessible sources of PPP funding due to the lack of banking institutions. Black-owned small businesses have turned to online banks as their primary source of credit, effectively circumventing the history of discrimination at “normal” banks. Despite this preference, the SBA granted online lenders access to PPP loans only after the first round of funding was nearly gone. This accounts for the aforementioned disparities as well.

There’s plenty of blame to go around here. You can look at the SBA and call their rollout of PPP loans a failure. You can point to the banks and observe that this issue is just another chapter in the same old story. You can even criticize businesses that unfairly received PPP loans (and there were plenty). The multiple breakdowns of this system all lead to the widespread and devastating presence of systemic racism.

We’ve said this of police departments, but it’s true of banking institutions too. Maybe it isn’t easy for organizations to reform beyond their original purpose. Banks have always presented significant barriers to intergenerational wealth and the economic prosperity of minority communities. PPP loans just lifted that veil in a huge, terrible way.

September 10, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Some Good, Some Bad

There’s been no shortage of news relevant to the fight for social justice lately, even if it’s not all good. Here are our highlights!

Federal

  • S. Budget Reconciliation Bill
    • Why we’re watching: The $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is a multifaceted, complicated piece of legislation with a number of praiseworthy provisions. Today, however, we focus on the citizenship portions, one of which would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA participants and some groups of undocumented people.

New York

  • School Resource Officer Removal
    • Why we’re watching: The school-to-prison pipeline impacts the lives of thousands of students across the country. New York City is finally taking action by moving nearly 5,000 such officers away from their public school posts. Now, counselors and restorative services will have more leeway to help children rather than punish them.

Texas

  • SB1
    • Why we’re watching: For weeks now, we’ve been keeping you updated on Texas’ effort to reduce the voting power of minorities. This week, they were finally successful. SB1 will limit voting options in especially diverse communities, including Harris County, which saw a boom in voter participation thanks to good ideas like drive-thru and early voting.

Virginia

  • Robert E. Lee Statue
    • Why we’re watching: After a multiyear battle with legislators and the court system, activists saw their efforts pay off when Virginia removed the country’s largest Confederate statue from its pedestal in Richmond. No longer will young Black children be forced to look up towards the most significant Confederate from the Civil War.

Wisconsin

  • Milwaukee Green Jobs Plan
    • Why we’re watching: Environmental reform is central to social justice, especially as climate change induces more freak weather events. Milwaukee is planning ahead on this topic, coupling federal funds with local action to create good jobs for low-income families in the renewable energy economy.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Let’s talk about racist mascots.

Earlier this year, Colorado passed SB116, which banned high schools from using mascots or imagery that depict Native Americans. Schools in violation of the law as of June 1, 2022 will face a $25,000 monthly fine. Gov. Polis’ signed the bill on June 28, drawing criticism from groups like the Native American Guardians Association and local school boards, both of whom wish to retain the offensive imagery of Colorado’s schools.

No legislation is passed in a vacuum. SB116 is representative of a nationwide shift away from sports organizations using racist, outdated mascots. In the professional sports world, the Washington Football Team prominently pivoted away from their former logo and title, thanks to multiple lawsuits and sponsors threatening to pull support. More recently, the Cleveland Indians announced that the 2021 baseball season would be the last under that club title. These high-profile attempts to catch up with the times made waves in the news, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

As of last October, 1,232 high schools still boasted Native American team names.

Over 1,000 high schools across the country wear racist insignias and shout antiquated chants at football games and see nothing wrong with that. To their credit, hundreds of these schools are in the process of changing their traditional garb and nickname to align with 2021’s values. Some of them did it after years of activism and community organization while others, like many in Colorado, are compelled by legislation to address the status quo.

Many proponents of the status quo…ahem, racists…will point out that groups like the Native American Guardians Association don’t want to see mascots reformed. They pour money into lawsuits, throwing around terms like “unfunded mandate” and “local rights” while conveniently ignoring the combined effort of hundreds of Native American groups to get rid of offensive mascots. In short, arguments to “preserve heritage,” even by some Native American groups, fall flat. They pervert a collective and longstanding desire for change by boiling it down to only their feelings.

This movement is in fact, not benign. In fact, a Center for American Progress study concluded that by using offensive mascots, school administrators create hostile learning environments and undue anxiety for Indigenous students, even linking such imagery to youth suicide and low self-esteem.

So, if opponents to bills like SB116 could be pipe down about the evils of political correctness, we’d appreciate it. What about the evils of institutionally bullying Indigenous students? The psychological and emotional harm that comes from decades of trotting out offensive mascots far outweigh the importance of tradition. Using stereotypes only perpetuates biases, especially among impressionable adolescents.

The truth is simple: offensive mascots dehumanize Indigenous people. Imagery such as this doesn’t provide any room for Native American groups to define themselves but rather grants that luxury to outdated stereotypes. And in case you weren’t aware, our country has been doing this for far too long. Our federal and state governments spearheaded an intensive effort to “civilize” Indigenous groups by teaching them Western customs and erasing their culture.

There’s been a recent focus in Canada and some parts of the U.S. on boarding schools, in which teachers tried to “assimilate” Indigenous students. Curriculum there included forcing Christianity upon young children and instilling rigid discipline and individualism, both principles of Western culture.

Claiming Native Americans as your mascot is along these same lines. It’s another step in a long erasure of Indigenous culture and pride. The impacts go beyond the esoteric too. From harming the psychology of students to perpetuating racism, there are real-world consequences to the actions of our school boards and communities. So, please, enough with the importance of maintaining tradition. Convention is nothing against the well-being of students and our national discourse.

September 3, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Policing Around the Country

Today’s roundup is a little different. We’re looking at some developments in the world of policing across the country!

Colorado

  • Grand Jury Indictment
    • Why we’re watching: Almost two years after the murder of Elijah McClain, a grand jury has indicted the three police officers and two paramedics that used unnecessary and lethal force to detain the 23-year-old. These charges come on the heels of Gov. Polis signing policing reforms into law earlier in the summer in McClain’s memory.

Illinois

  • Chicago Police Department Presence in Schools
    • Why we’re watching: After polling a number of Chicago public schools, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) found out that most administrators didn’t want officers patrolling their buildings. After initially planning to ignore this insight, the CPD has since promised to withdraw officers from schools that expressed hesitancy to house multiple officers.
  • Naperville Body Cameras
    • Why we’re watching: Body cameras are slowly becoming the norm among police departments, and now Naperville is joining the mix. This week, officers began testing body cameras that automatically activate when answering a call or making an arrest.

Minnesota

  • Charter Amendment
    • Why we’re watching: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis voters will consider a ballot measure to replace the police department with a “public safety agency,” a first of its kind notion in such a major city. If approved, the measure would transform traditional policing into a more community- and civil rights-focused methodology.

Missouri

  • Kansas City Council Vote
    • Why we’re watching: Back in May, the Kansas City Council voted to reduce its $42 million police budget as the country generally reconsiders the institution of law enforcement. Now, the Board of Police Commissioners is suing Kansas City to overturn its decision.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Labor Day is all flash and little substance.

In 1894, the United States officially recognized Labor Day as a federal holiday. From then on, the first Monday of September would be a time for reflection, relaxation, and honoring the labor heroes and protests of our past. It’s our only major national holiday that celebrates the workers who collectively improved this country through boycotts, strikes, and union efforts.

But while some of us are sitting at home and enjoying the day, it’s worth noting that the level of equity in our workplaces hardly lives up to Labor Day’s promise.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, investigates complaints of workplace discrimination. The agency’s caseload is daunting; they typically close more than 100,000 cases every year. Unsurprisingly, there’s no protected class that consistently benefits from the EEOC’s investigations. Complaints based on age, gender, disability, or other immutable characteristics, largely don’t pan out. In fact, only 18% of filers receive some form of relief.

Claims based on race fare the worst of all. Only 15% of those complaints result in relief, despite making up a vast majority of cases. And even though Black workers constitute only 13% of our workforce, they face 26% of all workplace discrimination.

This disparity reveals just how far the EEOC has fallen from its inception in the Civil Rights Act. It’s less a failure of conviction or direction and more revealing of our country’s systemic ignorance of racial abuses. Appropriations show some worrying trends in this regard. Here, you can see that EEOC staff has been consistently reduced over time.

While the congressionally enacted funding has generally increased over time, it hasn’t kept pace with inflation. For example, if the EEOC funding level from 1984 was translated to today, it should amount to over $510 million. In reality, Congress approved only $389,500,000 for the EEOC in 2020.

Many point to the dwindling EEOC budget as rationale for the agency’s inactivity. From 1980 to 2021, our working population increased by 50% to 160 million; confirming workplace discrimination takes time and resources. Many former staffers agree that given more funding, the EEOC would likely side with filers more often than not.

This Labor Day let’s talk about sufficiently funding the EEOC. By genuinely working toward the abolition of workplace discrimination, we can honor the working forefathers of the country. There are people who gave their lives in the pursuit of fair working conditions and collective bargaining. Our government has repeatedly dispatched officers to violently suppress labor protests and strikes.

And yet, Black and Brown workers aren’t treated fairly in their jobs.

One thing, then, is clear: While it’s nice getting Labor Day off, we’d prefer if our institutions actually honored workers by addressing workplace discrimination. The status quo of nominally honoring a group without committing to helping said group behind the scenes has gone on for far too long. If we want to celebrate Black History Month, let’s actually remember events like the Tulsa Race Massacre. If we want to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, let’s not ignore our history of trying to “assimilate” Native Americans into white, Western society.

The time for these surface level observances has passed – it’s time we demand substantive action from the leaders who grandstand during every one of these holidays.

August 27, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Making Up for the Past

Social justice regularly involves leaders making up for past injustices against communities of color. Here are some great examples!

Connecticut

  • Housing Development
    • Why we’re watching: Although we prefer to highlight legislative news in these roundups, it’s tough for us not to talk about what’s going on in Connecticut. In a state infamous for its restrictive zoning laws, the City of Fairfield gave developers permission to develop an affordable housing complex, helping make up for past discrimination in housing statewide.

 Federal

  • Discussion Draft: Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
    • Why we’re watching: Passing federal marijuana legislation will be difficult, but at least the ball is rolling, thanks to Sen. Schumer. Lawmakers are currently debating this drafted language and set of goals, which includes helping reverse America’s past transgressions again communities of color.
  • John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
    • Why we’re watching: Did we talk about this bill last week? Yes, we did. But now, the House of Representatives has passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, sending it to its likely doom in the Senate. The bill would reestablish rules governing how some municipalities can alter voting access laws.
  • Letter to the Department of Health and Human Services
    • Why we’re watching: A while ago, Secretary of the Interview Deb Haaland began an initiative to investigate Native American boarding schools, a chapter of our past too often forgotten. In these institutions, teachers stripped Indigenous children of their culture and tried to “assimilate” them. Now, multiple senators have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to provide a counseling hotline for Indigenous groups as they grapple with this painful history.

Maryland

  • Climate Change Preparedness Program
    • Why we’re watching: Black and Brown communities bear the brunt of climate change more than their white counterparts. In Charles County, MD, the Climate Change Preparedness Program is working to identify the impacts of human-accelerated climate change while reducing carbon emissions and other polluting substances.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Critical Race Theory and American Values

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard about critical race theory in the news this summer. It’s the most recent far-right boogeyman – often discussed but hardly understood. Politicians have dedicated their entire campaigns and legislative efforts to banning the educational framework from our schools in ignorance of its potential benefits.

So, what is critical race theory?

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic idea that race is a social construct and that racism is as much the byproduct of institutional discrimination as individual prejudice. In short, minorities experience inequality not solely because of the aggregated racism of millions of Americans but also because that’s how our government, economy, and society are designed.

Redlining is a great example of this top-down inequity. In the 1930s, the federal government launched a nationwide effort to segregate housing. The Federal Housing Administration drew “red lines” around mostly Black communities and instructed large banks to deny loans to residents of those areas. Black families found it difficult to purchase a new home and create intergenerational wealth without the financial support available to white people, a shutout which still plagues them to this day.

The facts of redlining are well-documented yet ignored too often. It’s an example of how the government and financial institutions conspired to systematically reduce the quality of life for Black people throughout the country. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed the practice, but by then it was too late.

Disparities in homeownership illustrate just how severely redlining impacted minority communities. Critical race theory helps point that out and encourages scholars to not ignore systematic oppression. But for some reason, mainstream and fringe politicians alike have decried the teaching of critical race theory as somehow opposed to American values.

They’re right of course, just not in the way they think they are.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank group, claims that critical race theory creates a prism of skin color through which its proponents see the entire world. It also claims that this degrades our national discourse and civics by making it more difficult to understand each other and have a real dialogue. The Heritage Foundation has parallelly criticized “identity politics,” claiming the U.S. isn’t divided into groups.

Where to begin?

Critical race theory simply suggests that race affects our lives. Whether through workplace discrimination, economic coercion, and even our daily interactions, skin color certainly affects how the world treats us. You don’t need to be an organizer or activist to admit this is true – the evidence is all over the place. Opponents to critical race theory are simply acting out of fear that they’ll have to recognize that society is rigged against Black and Brown communities.

Why are they afraid of that? Well, it shakes the idea that America is this idealistic land of the free, where everyone can fairly compete with each other and prosper. That isn’t true, nor has it ever been. In reality, America as we know it is the product of decades of racial discrimination from our elected officials and those in power. Teaching students that race affects our lives isn’t evil, nor is it “identity politics.” It’s simply logical, historically accurate, and commendable.

August 20, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Local Decisions

Last week we focused on our federal government. We didn’t stop doing that of course, but check out this local news too!

Arizona

  • Arizonans for Voter ID Act
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona Republicans are introducing a ballot measure giving the state’s citizens a chance to oppress minority votes for themselves. The measure would require photo identification on election day and outlaw third-party ballot collection, among other restrictions. 

California

  • Anti-Camping Ordinance
    • Why we’re watching: This is the latest in Los Angeles’ crusade against the comfort and rights of homeless citizens. Councilman Joe Buscaino proposed using the city’s local anti-camping laws to ban tents within 500 feet of any public school. Not only would this erroneously teach children that homeless individuals are dangerous, but also does nothing to fix California’s housing access problem.

 Connecticut

  • 2021-2022 School Calendar
    • Why we’re watching: The Stonington Board of Education recently decided to reverse their earlier decision to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day on the school calendar. This flawed decision comes after the board received complaints about Critical Race Theory.

Federal

  • John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
    • Why we’re watching: The Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in recent years and now Congress is responding. This bill would restore that landmark legislation to its former glory and scope by requiring municipalities with a history of voter discrimination to get all new regulations approved by the federal government.
  • FY2022 Budget Resolution
    • Why we’re watching: This bill, which essentially guides Congress’ spending for the next year, is poised to be a tremendous expansion of social services. These reforms include paid family leave, conservation programs, tuition-free community college, and tax cuts for the middle class.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Black August, the “Other” Black History Month

August is an especially significant month in Black history. It’s a time of birth and death, revolution and tragedy. It’s the month of Nat Turner’s rebellion, the March on Washington, and the births of Marcus Garvey and Fred Hampton. It’s also the month that the first African slaves arrived in the colonies, the Fugitive Slave Law Convention, and the death of W.E.B. du Bois.

To most, the death of George Jackson hardly registers among the other major August events in Black history. But it was his murder that launched Black August, a month-long remembrance of Black leaders slain for their activism.

George Jackson: Dragon Philosopher and Revolutionary Abolitionist | AAIHS

George Jackson was an activist who co-founded the Black Guerilla Family in 1966 at San Quentin State Prison in California. Its purpose was to promote Black power, maintain dignity for incarcerated peoples and overthrow the U.S. government. Jackson founded the group alongside fellow inmates George “Big Jake’ Lewis and W.L. Nolen while serving a life sentence for armed robbery.

On August 21, 1971, Jackson smuggled a handgun into San Quentin to launch an escape. After overpowering correctional officers with the help of other inmates, guards fatally shot Jackson when he escaped to the prison yard. Inmates David Johnson, Johnny Spain, Hugo Pinell were convicted of murdering officers while Willie Tate, Fleeta Drumgo, and Luis Talamantez were acquitted for their part in the escape attempt.

Those are the events that led to the observance of Black August. Sundiata Tate describes the month as a time to “embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance.”

The work for which Black August stands still continues today – from decarceration movements to addressing world leaders about the continued oppression of Black communities everywhere. While these efforts are illustrative of how much has truly changed since the end of the civil rights movement, the holiday’s relative obscurity tells us a lot too.

Black August is not a terribly well-known event. George Jackson is not a famous Black activist. His work doesn’t get any space in our history books. And even still, some are trying to further erode what students are being taught about Black history.

The nationwide crusade against “critical race theory,” led by those who can’t properly define it, is a testament to the widespread erasure of Black history. Lawmakers in dozens of states are campaigning against teachers who expound the idea that our country’s systems discriminate against some of its citizens. It does, by the way. Recent events highlight how adamantly our leaders try to deny that systemic racism exists.

In elementary school, we’re taught about the glory of the American Revolution but not the countless activists murdered as George Jackson was. We’re implicitly told that sacrificing one’s life for our country is noble as long as it’s for a mostly white cause. Doing so for the liberation of Black people won’t get your name in textbooks. Rather, lawmakers may campaign against the very explanation of your work. This disparity is shameful, wrong, and disgusting, but not surprising.

Black August is a time to remember fallen activists in the fight for equality. Let’s make sure we do that this month and every other.

August 13, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Federal Focus

Even though it’s summer break for federal legislators, we wanted to focus on some bills from our nation’s capital – check them out below!

Federal

  • Anti-Digital Redlining Act
    • Why we’re watching: Redlining has robbed entire families of intergenerational wealth and still happens to this day. Internet service providers lay high-speed fiber in only high-income areas, effectively blocking minority neighborhoods from accessing modern internet speeds. If this bill passes, that won’t happen anymore.
  • For the People Act
    • Why we’re watching: The federal focus on voting rights legislation has taken a backseat to, well, summer vacation. Legislators are back in their home districts after Republicans procedurally blocked a vote on the For the People Act. When weighing the filibuster again voting rights of Americans, we side with the latter every time.
  • FY2022 Budget Reconciliation
    • Why we’re watching: Tucked away in the budget reconciliation bill is a provision that would create “a lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants.” That bill passed the Senate earlier this week and despite a lack of clarity on the specifics of the reform, it’s a great sign for undocumented immigrants in our country.
  • R. 40
    • Why we’re watching: Sometimes, legislation is awfully slow. This might be the year Congress votes on H.R. 40, a bill first introduced in 1989, to study the feasibility and benefits of reparations for Black Americans. The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill earlier this spring, but its fate in the full House and Senate remains up in the air.
  • Right to Vote Act
    • Why we’re watching: Believe it or not, but there is no statutory right to voting in America. That’s why so many politicians can focus their energy on reducing our voting power. Sen. Ossoff, however, recently introduced legislation that would codify this sacred right alongside his fellow senators.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

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