In November’s presidential election, Black voters were instrumental in putting Joe Biden into the Oval Office. In his victory speech, Biden told those voters, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Now, in the early weeks of his presidency, we’re beginning to see how Biden intends to make good on that promise, with the undoing of some of the Trump administration’s policies as well as the release of his racial justice and equity agenda.
Biden was the first president to mention white supremacy in his inaugural address, saying: “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer … And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”
National Urban League President Marc Morial says that working against white supremacy in America is going to be a heavy lift for the Biden administration.
“It’s going to take everything they have to defeat the tide of white supremacy and violent extremism,” he said. “I believe the first steps he’s taken are extraordinary in that no prior president that I can remember has acted so decisively to put down several markers when it comes to issues of racial justice.”
But this is only the beginning, Morial cautions. “The framework is being put down for significant action on issues related to racial justice. I embrace the early steps but I’m not spiking the ball,” he said.
Chicago Urban League President Karen Freeman-Wilson says the message Biden is sending will ripple throughout all levels of government.
“There is a clear message being sent that we want to engage differently, that white supremacy is not welcome, but that President Biden will use his administration’s resources to get at the root of white supremacy and to uncover that in the military and places where he has federal jurisdiction, which I think is extremely important,” she said.
Similarly, Freeman-Wilson says she is encouraged by Biden’s plan to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but her organization stands ready to aid federal and local efforts.
“It’s important that we focus on the local level on the immediate needs of people. Right now, it’s to ensure that Blacks get the vaccine,” said Freeman-Wilson. “We know there is some skepticism, so we are working with the state, city and county to ensure that people understand one of the best ways to fight against COVID in addition to testing and washing your hands and masks … is to now get the vaccine. That’s something that the Chicago Urban League has placed front and center. In addition to that, it’s the need for relief to those who have seen so many challenges as a result of this pandemic, particularly Black businesses.”
Freeman-Wilson also finds much to like in the nominees Biden has so far chosen for his cabinet.
“I am excited to see the combination of diversity and experience in President Biden’s cabinet,” she said. “The diversity sends a strong message about the values and priorities of the Biden administration to ensure that the cabinet reflects the faces of America. The experience indicates that we will have the best team available to address a confluence of challenging issues — the pandemic, the wealth gap, climate change, police/community dissension, the racial divide, immigration, homeland and national security and an economy in crisis.”
Morial agrees with her assessment.
Maria Fudge, who will head the Department of Housing and Urban Development “will wake up an agency that’s been in a deep sleep for many years,” he said. “General Lloyd Austin, a native of Mobile, Alabama, a decorated general who will become secretary of Defense. There’s Susan Rice, who’ll have hold of the Domestic Policy Council which is central in shaping initiatives around racial justice. Each and every one of the people I’ve named … are committed and more than qualified and experienced to make things happen within the government. … I’m excited because they’re not novices, they’re not people who are going to have to learn on the job, they’re hitting the ground running, because there is a mess to clean up after four years of Donald Trump.”