Georgia recently ranked #1 as the best state in America for Black-owned businesses. So why is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms encouraging residents to stay at home and ignore Gov. Brian Kemp’s effort to begin reopening the city?
Black business owners should have the opportunity that Governor Kemp wants to give them: the right to reopen their businesses, maintain their livelihoods, and get back to work.
Mayor Bottoms will tell you that coronavirus fears are behind her warnings, but Georgia’s COVID-19 numbers lag far behind the rest of the country in terms of infections and deaths.
According to Google’s COVID-19 tracker, Georgia has nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and around 1,250 deaths, far below the cases and deaths seen by New York State, the epicenter of the pandemic, that is counting nearly 320,000 cases and over 19,000 deaths.
Mayor Bottoms says that beginning the path to reopening Georgia is “deadly.” Yet while it is true that African Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, it is also true that the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus are among older Americans with pre-existing health conditions.
So why not create messaging for the African American population of Georgia that allows black small business owners to explore the protocols they need to take to safely reopen, and encourage the most vulnerable members of the community to stay inside?
Framing the allowed but not mandated reopening of small businesses in Georgia as an implicit attack on an African American voter base more vulnerable to COVID-19 leads to misinformation and conspiracy theories, and is counterproductive to keeping Atlanta’s citizens healthy in every way, including economically.
Telling a young and healthy small business owner to wait until his or her business is fully destroyed with no chance of coming back because the “science” says so is the kind of messaging that will continue to hurt American citizens of all colors. Moreover, business owners should be given the opportunity to make decisions about their own businesses.
Bottoms’ vociferous stance against reopening the economy, ostensibly to protect black citizens, has the unintended consequence of hurting black business owners in the Mecca for black entrepreneurship.
As Y’Kheyo Underwood, owner of the Good Look barber shop in Marietta, Georgia, told USA Today: “The people who are at home and still getting paid by their companies. If you are in my position, with a small business, you know the only way of getting income is by opening up your establishment.”
Bad messaging – particularly the kind of messaging coming from Bottoms – is especially bad for black businesses. The shaming of Georgia residents of all colors eager to get back to work and run their businesses is wrong, and will hurt the citizens that public officials have pledged to help protect.
It’s up to the business owners and citizens of Atlanta, Georgia, and eventually the rest of the country to figure out a safe, sane way to reopen their businesses while ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable populations. We shouldn’t stand in their way.
Rob Smith is an Iraq War Veteran, Political Commentator, and Contributor with Turning Point USA. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @robsmithonline