You Put Them First, They Put You Last
What’s old becomes new, in a virtual illustration by artist Ernest Russel, compares Malcolm X’s “The Ballot Or The Bullet” speech highlighting the 1964 elections to the 2020 elections. In the video, Russel compares how Malcolm describes Black America’s ability to choose who goes to the White House and who goes to the dog house. Malcolm explains how the Democrats get to Washington off the backs of Black voters, yet these same politicians take care of every other group’s policy, addressing the needs of their most loyal voter base last. “You put them first and they put you last, because you’re a chump, a political chump,” Malcolm energetically expresses to his audience.
Incremental and ineffective policy has become a disturbingly consistent trend as Democratic presidents have taken office with roots back to Reconstruction. President Andrew Johnson wanted newly freed Blacks to receive education, he just wanted these programs to be less expansive then the ones for whites. His goal was to make sure black advancement did not disrupt America’s racial caste system. Even though Johnson’s politics would switch parties from Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats to Republican values after The Southern Strategy, Democratic presidents have consistently offered Black Americans less.
Clinton ignored Congressional Black Caucus demands for an additional 2 billion for drug treatment, 3 billion for early intervention programs, and push for Racial Justice Act, while signing in the 1994 Crime bill that would eventually devastate Black communities. Obama spent his first 100 days creating what would then become the greatest transfer of wealth to the top 1 percent, while allowing the same banks that sold subprime loans and traded derivatives to oversee the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP). When Black America, who voted in record numbers in the 2008 presidential election fueling Obama to a runoff victory, asked for specific policies Obama politely responded, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” At the end of Obama’s presidency, Black homeownership would fall from historic highs to historic pre-civil rights era lows. In the midst of losing homes, Blacks outside of the 10th percentile would experience a wealth decline of up to 40 percent.
Enter Biden, taking office riding the wave of Black South Carolina voters who dusted off his failing candidacy, taking him from fifth to first place in the 2020 presidential primaries. As Democrats switched from a liberal message to a moderate message, Black voters followed. By the end of the general elections, the Democrats were able to ride to victory on a blue wave of Black voters turning red states blue – not just for Biden, but for key senatorial races as well.
Biden took office and on day one, right after his inauguration celebration, got right to work signing 17 detailed executive orders including:
- Stop border wall construction
- Ending the “Muslim” Travel Ban
- Rejoining Paris Climate Agreement
- Count non-citizens in U.S Census again
- End Keystone Pipeline
- Rejoin World Health Organization (WHO)
- 100 day mask mandate on federal property
- Extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums
- Continue stop payments of student loans until September
- Undoing of Trump’s ICE arrest priorities
- Liberian immigrant protections in U.S
- Federal Covid-19 response
- Strengthen workplace discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- Freeze Trump last minute regulatory actions
- Ethics commitment by executive branch
- Advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government
“You put them first, they put you last.” The only Executive Order addressing race is also, coincidentally, the one policy that gives federal agencies six months to respond with recommendations, but not action. While most of these Executive Orders specifically target intended groups, Biden’s Executive Order on racial equity includes all minorities and persons from lower social classes. Obama said, “a rising tide lifts all boats” and the end result was white America gaining tens of trillions of dollars in household wealth, while Black Americans lost their homes. If Black America learned anything from our first Black President, it should be that class based policies don’t solve race based problems.
In May 2020, reports from Centers for Disease Control reported that African Americans made up 28 percent of Covid-19 cases and 18 percent of Covid-19 deaths, while only comprising 13 percent of the U.S population. Reparations are not included in Biden’s racial equity plan, but Sheila Jackson Lee reintroduced the HR 40 Bill, a lame duck itself, at the beginning of January 2021. Although Biden hasn’t specifically stated that he supports HR 40, once again the House bill is picking up steam with 173 co-sponsors, which without the edits suggested by Duke professor, leading economist Dr. William Sandy Darity, is nothing more than a study with no budget for financial allotment or framework for completion. In the first and only HR 40 hearing, all participants including Democrats and Republicans agreed on one thing, Black American descendants of slavery should not get cash payments. The only budget tied to the bill is a $12 million payout to the 13 member committee members. Several notable Congressional representatives have pushed for class-based policies like Baby Bonds or student debt relief as remedies for closing America’s racial wealth gap.
One group known as The Reparations Collective is proposing that Biden sign a slew of executive orders specifically targeting the racial wealth gap in Biden’s first 100 days. These demands include a commission on reparations for Black American Descendants of Slavery to be completed in 12 months, immediate lineage-based economic pandemic relief, and an executive call for census designation, to name a few.
The African American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.Joseph R Biden
What does “having our backs” look like to Biden? If when Manhattan gets a cold, Harlem catches the flu, then what does it look like for African Americans when America suffers from a deadly pandemic? At the end of Obama’s presidency, we lost our homes and almost half of what little wealth we had. Now our lives are on the line. Will we lose that too?
Ibrahim Tanner ADOS Indianapolis President @ibrahimtanner1 email@example.com