May 16, 2020

 Rejecting and Resisting the Resilience Trap : Black Detroiters don’t always bounce back

By Detroit Peoples

COVID-19 is the most recent and perhaps the most horrific in a series of catastrophic illnesses fueled by long standing health inequities that make Black Detroiters especially vulnerable. The most recent data indicates that Detroit accounts for 9,881 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. (May 7, 2020)

Elected officials and senior public leaders tasked with representing the needs and interest of Black Detroiters have been heard lately referring to the resilience of Black Detroiters as a strategy for our survival in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last time we checked, the definition of resilience included: “The ability to adapt or rebound quickly from change, illness or bad fortunes; knocked down by challenges but they return as a stronger person more steadfast than before.”

The truth is that Black Detroiters don’t always bounce back from the historic systemic and structural damage visited upon our households and our communities.

The truth is that Black Detroiters don’t always bounce back from the historic systemic and structural damage visited upon our households and our communities.  This is underwritten by the facts that:

  • We don’t bounce back from mass water shut offs the absence of affordable running water in our homes
  • We don’t bounce back when our homes are overtaxed and swindled from us by unscrupulous lenders
  • We don’t bounce back when we are displaced by rents that consume more than 60% of our monthly income
  • We don’t bounce back from low pay no benefit jobs that make being an essential worker a death wish
  • We don’t bounce back from a plan for economic revitalization that transfers billions of public tax benefits to wealthy white developers and leaves our neighborhoods shrouded in blight and disrepair

Calls for resilience from policy makers are no substitute for thoughtful and bold initiatives that get at and eliminate the root of these unjust conditions reinforced by a status quo system of white supremacy.

In fact, the call for resilience and the need for Black folks to “step up” in the face of the most devastating public health event in this century, could be interpreted as shifting the responsibility for defeating this pandemic to individuals and to giving those in power a pass.

The call for resilience in the face of COVID-19 also reinforces the racist notion that Black bodies are somehow more capable of experiencing repeated episodes of physical pain, sorrow and loss – that somehow both experiencing and surviving trauma is normalized among Black Detroiters.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Majority Black Detroit deserves leadership that rejects and resists the notion of individual resilience as a strategy for COVID-19 relief and recovery.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Majority Black Detroit deserves leadership that rejects and resists the notion of individual resilience as a strategy for COVID-19 relief and recovery.  Instead, we call upon our elected officials and public leaders to be guided by a strategy that centers racial justice and equity in COVID resource allocation and related public policies. To do anything less will undermine the long term success of Black Detroiters for generations to come.