Strengthening Inclusive Leadership in Crisis and Recovery

May 08, 2020
Lora Berg
Elandre Dedrick
4 min read
Photo Credit: Andrii Vodolazhskyi / Shutterstock

The speed, depth, and breadth of reporting on the ways the coronavirus intensifies inequalities is shedding a timely light on the need for inclusive policymaking and inclusive community responses. On both sides of the Atlantic, in-depth reporting has shown the disproportional impact of the coronavirus on already vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, as the United States surpasses one million cases and 70,000 deaths, there has been a stunning lack of inspirational leadership at the executive level and even in several states across the nation. The relationship between the United States and Europe appears fragile when it is most needed. As the United States appears to be stepping back from global leadership, this is a crucial time for inclusive leaders across sectors to step up by combatting misinformation, advocating for marginalized groups, and reaffirming transatlantic ties in the name of an inclusive recovery.

As more data has become available from states across the United States and Europe, ethnic and racial disparities in the infection and death rates have exposed long existing fault lines in our societies. Increased economic precarity and rates of poverty have left many communities of color more vulnerable to the transmission of the coronavirus and at a disproportionate risk of dying from coronavirus complications. In the United Kingdom, early research by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre finds that 35 percent of nearly 2,000 patients were black and minority ethnic (BAME), though they only comprise 13 percent of the population. Across large European cities such as Paris, London, and Brussels, as in the United States, minority populations are more likely to hold front line jobs, live in multigenerational, crowded settings, and are further experiencing intensified police control while facing higher rates of infection. Less than one in five Latino-Americans have jobs that can be carried out from home. In New York City, 79 percent of the essential, frontline workers are Latino or African American. Despite public health provided in many European countries, centuries of ostracizing Roma populations and relegating these populations to living quarters that are crowded and underserved by public utilities makes this population most vulnerable. Many of Europe’s 12 million Roma citizens live in substandard housing, some without electricity and water, making the possibility of severe outbreaks strong.

Despite what we have learned, data collection based on race and ethnicity is taking place in some U.S. states but not others. Legislators are exerting pressure to have data collected across all states, in part to ensure that the Civil Rights Act’s measures are being respected. In Europe beyond the United Kingdom, such data is often not collected, so it is difficult to bring forward quantitative rather than qualitative evidence about inequalities faced by minority populations. This is just a first step in moving toward more effective, inclusive policy solutions. As UN Assistant Secretary General Mirjana Spoljaric tweets, “While social distancing protects us from #coronavirus, social exclusion only increases the threat.” We are in this together and could usefully at this unique moment in history turn our power of invention toward overcoming divisions and developing more equitable and inclusive societies.

At this critical moment, leadership is needed to combat misinformation and, particularly in the United States, the confusing messaging about the continued need to stay at home as states begin to reopen. Fears engendered by the virus escalate racist behavior including violence, as old tropes surface equating “the other” with disease. People of Asian background are suffering such racism in the United States at the instigation of the White House, but also across Europe. Blaming others alleviates the requirement to assume responsibility and to seek significant structural changes. There has never been a more important time to practice allyship with minority communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Fortunately, many groups have already begun using their voice to speak up for those being disproportionately impacted. A coalition of 21 race equality organizations in the United Kingdom has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing their concerns over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Open Society Foundations will give more than $130 million to combat the ravages of the coronavirus around the globe, with half of the initial coronavirus response going toward the United States. In Turkey, 48 Roma associations made a joint statement expressing concern that hunger may be one outcome of the virus, given that restrictions make the precarious work Roma often engage in, such as recycling and vending, impossible. Ultimately, we are in this together, and if we do not care for the most vulnerable among us, all of us stand to lose.

Amid the uncertainty wrought by the current health and economic crises, the need for transatlantic cooperation remains clear. Orienting our efforts towards to an inclusive recovery will create the opportunity to chart a collective future as we create a new normal. Commitment to an inclusive recovery means addressing inequalities and disparities in access to healthcare, guaranteeing safe and healthy working and living conditions and ensuring full representation in policy discussions. Recovery will be a lengthy process that will undoubtedly last years. Yet, it is also a chance to reconstruct and reimagine how we live together economically, politically, and socially. By embracing the diversity of our societies to include the most vulnerable, leaders can capitalize on the full creative and productive potential of our nations as we repair and remake the economy, climate, and transatlantic bonds.