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As the COVID-19 global pandemic ravaged the United States, exacerbating the country’s existing racial disparities, Black and brown small business owners navigated unprecedented obstacles to stay afloat. Adding even more hardship and challenges, the United States also engaged in a nationwide racial reckoning in the wake of the murder of George Floyd resulting in wide-scale protests in the same neighborhoods that initially saw a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and harming many of the same Black and brown business owners. These business owners had to operate in an environment in which they experienced recurring trauma, mental anguish and uncertainty, along with physical destruction of many of their businesses and communities. This essay looks at how the generation-defining events of 2020 and the first half of 2021 affected the landscape of operating a small business, particularly for Black small business owners in Philadelphia and New York, where the authors run transactional law clinics at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Columbia Law School. It goes on to describe how the pandemic and George Floyd protests affected their clinic students, clients, and themselves. The essay analyzes the events of the last year and a half in the historical context of past events of economic disruption and racial unrest. It concludes that a lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the recognition of systemic racism and inequity that has persisted in American society for over 150 years and how it stunts Black and brown entrepreneurship.


Law | Law and Society