It shouldn’t take a pandemic to address societal inequality | Opinion

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Joanna McClinton

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly turned our world upside down, forcing us to adapt to a new way of life. It continues testing our strengths and exposing our society’s weaknesses.

This crisis shines yet another light on the inequality African American communities have been facing for longer than my own lifetime. While I am glad to see these issues being communicated to a wider audience, I also want to point out that it shouldn’t take a deadly pandemic to make them relevant.

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Before COVID-19, research showed us African Americans are less likely to have access to quality health care and more likely to earn poverty level wages. We already knew students in urban schools are less likely to have the same opportunities as those in suburban ones.

When it comes to maternal mortality, the Centers for Disease Control reported black mothers in the United States died at three to four times the rate of white mothers well before the first COVID-19 case was discovered.

The consequences of these ongoing disparities have certainly escalated because of COVID-19, with African Americans accounting for a majority of the coronavirus cases in Philadelphia and even more pain and suffering for our neighborhoods of color.

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Many of my brothers and sisters who were already living below the poverty line are now struggling even more to put food on the table and provide for their family.

I am grateful for the organizations out there who understand these hardships and have stepped up immensely to bridge these racial divides.

I proudly helped secure face masks for the Black Doctors Consortium in April to assist in their efforts to provide free COVID-19 testing in predominately African American neighborhoods.

This is the type of action we need to expand upon.

As the first black woman elected to serve as the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus Chair, I have been fighting with my colleagues to break down these racial barriers in Harrisburg and pass laws that demand justice for all.

Our proposals are needed now more than ever, which includes bills to ensure all employees have:

To help bridge the digital divide, I’m working to pass legislation that would dedicate funding to school districts to provide technological equipment and internet service to young people who don’t have access to them at home while schools are closed.

Opportunity should never be determined by a person’s skin color or zip code.

While we can’t change the past, we can certainly influence the future.

The issues facing communities of color are clear. What’s not yet clear is whether those who have the power to address these issues have opened their eyes.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Democrat, represents the 191st House District, which includes portions of Philadelphia and Delaware counties. She writes from Harrisburg.