Pay It Forward illustration LO
Illustration by LeeAnn O’Neill

[This blog post was originally published in April 2020]

In times of crisis, it is natural to shift into survival mode. We narrow our focus and direct our resources toward protecting ourselves and our loved ones. But no one is safe unless we are all safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes clear that inequity and injustice can be fatal and our systems are not built to protect the most vulnerable. These disparities — in access to healthcare, financial and housing security, and even public information — are not new, but they are evolving. 

These truths can be heavy to hold. Those who get to witness these injustices instead of living them may even feel guilty or ashamed. But with privilege comes the opportunity to practice allyship. Because equity work is essential labor. And we’re all on-call. 

So what does it mean to practice allyship? The Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence describes allyship as:

[A]n active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person holding systemic power seeks to end oppressions in solidarity with a group of people who are systemically disempowered.

Many people are already flexing their allyship muscles — by prepaying for services from small businesses, leaving a bigger tip for takeout, or picking up groceries for an older neighbor. But there’s another powerful boost of privilege showing up in many people’s bank accounts just in time for Pay It Forward Day on April 28 — the federal stimulus check. 

Center equity and social justice

It’s an opportunity to center equity and social justice and redistribute our community’s wealth. Many of the groups hit hardest by the coronavirus are among those left out of this and other forms of government aid, including:

People of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, low-income people, and the elderly are already at increased risk for COVID-19 due to structural inequities that lead to health disparities — including those conditions linked to worse outcomes.

Oregon Health Authority Senior Health Adviser Dawn Mautner explained how this plays out for Latinx Oregonians, who are testing positive for the virus at disproportionately high rates:

The structural racism and systemic disparities that lead to financial insecurity, substandard housing, jobs that can’t be done remotely, jobs that don’t offer health insurance and potentially limited access to healthcare, have chronically led to underlying conditions that put people at greater risk for COVID-19.

Similar trends are playing out across the country in Black and Indigenous communities, where a combination of structural inequities and justifiable mistrust of public health establishments is leading to higher infection and death rates.

Meanwhile, Asian folks are facing increasingly violent racism due to the perception that Chinese people are to blame for the spread of the virus. In some communities, people of color are being scapegoated for living in larger households where social distancing is more difficult.

As we watch the virus further expose pervasive disparities, we must push past pity and despair and tap into our privilege to fuel our collective survival. Now, more than ever, we must put our allyship into action.

In the spirit of Pay it Forward Day, here are few ways to spend your capital in solidarity with those most impacted by systemic inequities. (Got other ideas? Let us know in the comments.)

Share the wealth

For those with the financial capacity (whether latte-sized, Apple watch-sized,  or vacation home-sized), consider donating to local efforts centering people from historically marginalized communities, such as:

Give what you have

Privilege comes in many currencies:

  • Young and healthy? Consider shopping or running errands for the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, or single parents.
  • Tech savvy? Help someone use video apps like Zoom, Google Meet, or FaceTime to stay connected.
  • Good with paperwork? Help someone fill out an application to access resources. 
  • Feeling resilient? Reach out to support someone who is having a hard time coping.
  • Stocked up on groceries? Donate food items or prepare meals for those who are hungry or unable to cook for themselves. 
  • Well connected? Use your platform and influence to promote local efforts that center the most impacted and least resourced. 

To those who are struggling — with job losses, health concerns, unsafe living situations, increased racism and xenophobia, or other impacts of inequity — know that you deserve to be cared for by your community. 

To our friends and colleagues who center equity and justice every day — thank you for the work you have done and are continuing to do for our communities. Please don’t forget to care for yourselves as well. 

To those who are able, please join us in paying it forward — today and everyday.

In solidarity,

LeeAnn, Erin, and Kerani

Allyship in Action

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