Many argue that on the other side of the pain and sadness that has marked this pandemic crisis could be a chance to shape a ‘new normal’, what has been described as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to drive badly needed reform and change.
Things that once seemed unrealistic — cancelling student debt, covering paid sick leave, pausing bill collections — are becoming a reality overnight. We must reflect on how we want the world to change and importantly, who has the power to help bring this new world about.
But who will be leading the charge?
At a time like this, though, who will lead the charge? I fear that those who will have the privilege of shaping the new normal will be people who have remained healthy and economically secure. To be brutally honest, I fear that it will be shaped — like it has been for far too long — by people like me, for people like me: white, heterosexual men from upper / middle income backgrounds.
I fear that those who will not have that opportunity are the ones who should be leading the charge. The people who represent the reason why the world needs reimagining in the first place, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis, and who are being killed by police in the streets.
As Kim John-Williams has recently written in The Broken Social Contract:
“Being stuck inside due to a pandemic that was killing people who looked like me while simultaneously being reminded that to many my life did not matter as much as theirs was, to put mildly, disheartening. It is hard to overstate the difficulty of being the wrong gender and wrong color in Western culture. Being a black woman means having to constantly juggle the innate desire to be true to your cultural upbringing and heritage while self-editing to suppress or amplify certain personality traits you are taught will allow you to succeed socially and professionally, in a world built for white men.”
How can we create opportunities for Black people, and other oppressed groups, to not only contribute, but indeed lead, the shaping of a new world that is built for everyone?
Aspiring for equitable outcomes is not enough
If we want a better world, with more equitable outcomes, we need to design a more equitable process to bring that world to life.
Key to the reforms we have seen from previous crises has been the power that has been taken by those driving change. The Black Death helped end serfdom in Europe because serfs finally gained the power to leave lords who did not pay them fairly. World War I, in addition to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, gave women more power as they started taking jobs that men could no longer fill. This economic power in turn led to greater advocacy for women’s rights, such as the right to vote.
If we would like to come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient, and ultimately more equitable, groups that have been historically marginalised and disproportionately impacted by coronavirus must be given the power to shape the new normal.
How to share power
Those in positions of power — whether a company, a government, a philanthropic organisation, or even an individual like myself — have the responsibility to enable others. We must recognize our outsized influence and privilege, and create the conditions for others to feel safe and confident sharing their perspectives and growing their ideas.
If you are someone like me, who has free time, go research how a specific group — people experiencing homeless, victims of domestic abuse, people with disabilities — is being affected by this crisis and put yourself in their shoes. Who are the nonprofits and organisations working closely with them? What support do they need?
If you have a platform people follow, consider how you can leverage it to shine a light on others’ stories and speak truth to power?
If you are in a position to provide funding or support, join the growing list of funders who are loosening their requirements. Listen to what people need and give what you can, without any questions or strings.
As tragic and terrible as this crisis is, it will inevitably lead to lasting change. To make the most of it, we need to start thinking creatively now about how we can better lift up the voices of those who have been shut out for too long.
By John Burgoyne, Senior Associate at the Centre for Public Impact