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Will Hurricane Ida make the rich richer?

August 31, 2021, 7:12 PM UTC

As Hurricane Ida advanced toward Louisiana, my social feeds filled with increasingly desperate CashApp pleas, some from local organizers and aid agencies, others from individuals who sounded like they had been just one disaster away from becoming completely unmoored as it was. And now, Ida.

This time, emergency gas, food, and diaper money just isn’t going to cut it.

That said, the preponderance of mobile money services may be the only meaningful improvement in disaster support for vulnerable communities since Katrina landed in the same spot some 16 years ago. Curtis Brown, the emergency management coordinator for Virginia, told Congress last summer that an overwhelmingly white emergency community has contributed to decades of inequitable disaster responses.  “An overwhelming number of individuals designated as emergency managers are white males,” he told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Diversity in emergency management will help to reverse the existing failure to enact equitable practices before, during and after disasters.” 

This 2019 NPR investigation supports his claim. “[W]hite Americans and those with more wealth often receive more federal dollars after a disaster than do minorities and those with less wealth,” they found. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. “Federal aid isn’t necessarily allocated to those who need it most; it’s allocated according to cost-benefit calculations meant to minimize taxpayer risk.”

Experts believe that good information can help. This 2017 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a compilation of research and case studies on how disasters have impacted low-income communities in the U.S. In Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status, the table of contents alone tell a terrible story: People in vulnerable communities often don’t hear or are unable to respond to evacuation messages. They may live in inadequate housing in low-lying areas, and are more likely to be more seriously hurt or sickened during a disaster. Afterward, they struggle to get the aid or support they are entitled to. It adds up to cycle of trauma that deepens their alienation and despair.

This type of research informs a relatively new tool used by social scientists called social vulnerability modeling, which takes relevant variables associated with the most vulnerable groups — people living in poverty, the elderly, families with young children, renters, people with disabilities, specific racial and ethnic groups, recent immigrants — and combines them to form maps and predictive indexes. Not only can those maps be used to prepare disaster responses, the information is helpful to environmental justice initiatives, and to study how these populations benefit — or don’t — from recovery programs like those offered by FEMA or HUD.

You can dig into how it works and why it matters here, and I hope you do, particularly if you’re in a position to influence disaster support initiatives at your organization. Right now, there’s little reason to believe that vulnerable communities displaced by Ida are going to fare any better than they did last time around. And we can’t CashApp our way out of this level of systemic inequity.

“Political leaders, policymakers and emergency managers can no longer turn a blind eye to the recurring disproportionate impact of disasters in vulnerable populations,” Brown told Congress. “The entire emergency management enterprise—federal, state, local, nonprofit and private—must drastically improve.”

Ellen McGirt

In brief, breaking news

A Greater Place to Work? UKG Inc., a $3 billion human resources software company, has acquired Great Place to Work Institute, Inc., for an undisclosed amount. GPTW is best known by this audience for its employee surveys and contribution to the iconic Fortune lists: 100 Best Companies to Work For, World’s Best Multinational Workplaces, and Best Workplaces for Diversity. Little will change at first; there will be no associated layoffs, and the lists will live on. GPTW will continue as a standalone company within the UKG organization, led by their equally iconic CEO, Michael C. Bush. In a call with raceAhead, Bush hinted at a bright future. “We have the resources to dig deeper into the demographic experience of equity in the workplace,” he says, citing more data and analytics, and richer conversations with members of underrepresented groups. “We’re going to crack the code on what DEI really is.”

Bush paused to reflect on his early days as a young executive at Kaiser Permanente. “My mentor, Alva Wheatley, founded the Kaiser African American professional association in 1989, the first employee resource group at Kaiser, possibly in health care,” he said. He also befriended another up-and-coming executive, Bernard Tyson, who went on to become one of the most influential and equity-minded CEOs in health care. It was then that he first fully understood the potential — and obligation — of an organization to contribute to the growth of employees and impact the broader world. (Tyson, who died in 2019, was a key contributor to the story that launched the race beat at Fortune, Leading While Black, and had become a personal inspiration to me.) Bush went to business school and never looked back.

Bush says now is the time to ask the bigger questions about workplace diversity. Weak-tea bias mitigation training and underfunded diversity departments aren’t going to meet this moment. “There are some big myths about what DEI work is and how it functions,” he says. “We’re going to test all of it.” Equity of opportunity, equity of representation, equity of compensation and equity of wellbeing, are the broad benchmarks. “They’re easy to see, easy to measure, whether you’re there or not.”

On Point

A New Deal-era town faces a reckoning Greenbelt, Md. was a good idea, beautifully executed: A 1930s experiment in suburban planning, a jobs program disguised as an intentional and affordable community. A success except for one thing you already know: Though Black labor was used to build the city, Black people were barred from living there. Earlier this month, the city council added a referendum to the November ballot to ask voters to approve a commission to study how African Americans were harmed and if reparations should be considered. The conversation is on trend. “This is a unique moment in American history where reparations are literally exploding everywhere, all over the country, in various forms,” says Ron Daniels, convener of the National African American Reparations Commission.
Washington Post

Well look at you, Memphis The city is besting national averages for diversity in I.T., by some measures, by a significant margin. According to the annual Cyberstates Report by the Computing Technology Industry Association, Black people comprise 26% of the IT workforce compared to 8% nationally. And that's just for starters. Specialized training initiatives are making the difference, says Meka Egwuekwe, executive director of CodeCrew, a six month bootcamp for aspiring software developers. “I firmly believe that if we’re going to solely depend on those who just have college degrees and come from certain schools, we will forever be complaining about not having enough talent here,” he said. “We need to assess people on their skills and not just degrees.”
Daily Memphian

Virginia school board to pay $1.3 million in legal fees in a victory for transgender rights Gavin Grimm, the 2014 transgender high school sophomore who was forced to sue to use the bathroom of his choice, can claim victory. After years of high-profile court battles which triggered a host of “bathroom bills” supported by Republican-led legislators, the issue is resolved. “I hope that this outcome sends a strong message to other school systems, that discrimination is an expensive losing battle,” he said. This piece is an excellent recap of all that happened, which feels like a lifetime ago. One tidbit stuck out: The same school board continued Grimm’s humiliation by refusing to adjust his high school transcript to reflect his identity. The damage really is in the details.
New York Times


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Talking about transgender people GLAAD has an excellent media guide that can help anyone learn how to better refer to or communicate about transgender people. The glossary is a gift but reading through their reference materials is a great way to better understand what it means to be transgender and how to respect the boundaries of people who are living lives that are unfamiliar to many. According to a GLAAD/Harris Interactive poll, only 16% of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender, which can lead to some profound misunderstanding. “[W]hen a stereotypical or defamatory image of a transgender person appears in the media, the viewer may assume that all transgender people are actually like that; they have no real-life experience with which to compare it,” they say. Since everyone is a publisher now, we all have a lot to learn.

Don’t sneak a tissue after you watch this charming, animated short video from Story Corps called The Saint of Dry Creek, about a gay boy growing up in rural Washington in the late 1950s, and the unexpected advice his farmer father bestowed upon him. It’s only a few minutes, so no more hints. Enjoy, and remember, some people knew better, even back then. Original Story Corps audio here.
The Atlantic

Sometimes strangers will make a door in your heart If you are prone to thinking about social media as a troll-driven snake pit filled who haters who will spontaneously gather into a murmuration-mob to attack at will, then you’ll enjoy this wonderful story from David Perry. “No, I didn't join a cult,” he begins. “But I did find out what it would be like if the internet was the nicest place on earth, if Twitter was a platform in which people flooded each other with love, encouraged each of us to feel accepted and to accept ourselves…” The catalyst was an innocent question about the origin of an emoji he received in a text message. Next thing he knew, he’d been adopted by the fans of the Korean pop band, BTS, who engaged him with curiosity, candor, and compassion, and welcomed him into their ARMY. Really, a must-read and share.
The Current


History repeats itself, and moments of hope always rebuild— New Orleans, post-Katrina. 
Shannon Stapleton—SS/VP/Reuters

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