Following the 2020 deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the disparities that Black people face became points of national concern. As protests ensued around the country, while COVID-19 ravaged communities, local governments and companies began to reserve funds and opportunities across the country for Black people. This has caused tension in Oregon, where three business owners—two white and one Mexican American—are calling one COVID-19 relief fund biased.
According to the New York Times, out of the $1.4 billion worth of relief funds Oregon had received from the federal government, $62 million had been set aside for Black residents and business owners. “It was finally being honest,” said Black state senator Lew Frederick to the Times. “This is who needs this support right now.”
The decision has been met with opposition from Walter Leja, a 64-year-old white business owner who calls the fund “discriminatory.”
“It’s locking up a bunch of funds that can only be used by Black businesses when there’s a ton of other businesses out there that need access to those funds,” Leja said. “It’s not a white or Black thing. It’s an everybody thing.”
He, along with another white business owner, have filed a class action lawsuit that comes against the fund. They are joined by the Mexican-American owner of the Revolucion Coffee House in Portland, who is also suing for discrimination in a separate lawsuit.
Black people are affected by both racism and COVID-19, which when combined, are largely disadvantageous to say the least. Data from John Hopkins University has shown that Black Americans are three times as likely to contract COVID-19 than white ones and are also twice as likely to die, less likely to have any kind of health insurance, and more likely to have jobs that do not allow them to work remotely.
This information, along with the realities of medical racism and police brutality, have made the past year difficult to traverse. Some would maintain that these are just a few of the reasons why Black people need separate, special funds.