5 Things President Biden Should Do For Black Women in His First 100 Days
It's like clockwork. Black women are praised every election cycle for "saving" America.
Without the efforts of Black organizers across the country, Joe Biden wouldn't have secured the presidency; Kamala Harris wouldn't have made history as the first Black and South Asian woman to be Vice President. Without Stacey Abrams and the legions of disenfranchised voters she inspired to action, Georgia wouldn't have turned blue allowing Democrats to take control of the Senate. In President Joe Biden's acceptance speech, he thanked Black people for having his back, but now that he's been sworn in, a simple thanks won't be enough. The historical and cultural significance of this moment shouldn't be met with complacency.
"The Biden/Harris administration can repay Black women for our support by placing us in positions of power, so that our experiences and perspectives can inform how to move this country forward," Alicia Garza, principal at Black Futures Lab; author of The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart; and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, tells me over email on the day Biden and Harris are sworn in. "They can help close the wage gap for Black women, ensure that we have adequate and quality healthcare, childcare, and elder care. They can put Black women back to work in jobs that have protections and good wages and benefits. They can interrupt a criminal system that tears apart our families. And they can address racial terrorism that threatens our livelihood, wellbeing, and our ability to weigh in on the decisions that are impacting our lives every single day."
With Biden and Harris sworn in, their administration owes Black women more than lip service. Here are specific, actionable changes we hope to see in the first 100 days of this fledgling administration.
Get COVID-19 under control.
According to COVID Racial Data Tracker by The Atlantic, "Nationwide, Black people have died at 1.5 times the rate of white people," a disparity that must be addressed swiftly and decisively. Essential workers are disproportionately Black, and most 'essential' work makes it difficult to adhere to safety guidelines and maintain social distancing. Additionally, this is a group that rarely gets benefits, hazard pay, direct assistance or protection. COVID-19 has only magnified the lack of material support vulnerable, marginalized and Black working-class people receive. Biden has been working with a diverse COVID-19 advisory board since before he was sworn in, the co-chair of which told InStyle that health equity is her main focus now that he's taken office. In the first day of his presidency, Biden announced a federal mask mandate and a goal to have 100 million Americans vaccinated in his first 100 days. But he is presented with an opportunity to do more — to not only save lives by prioritizing access to the vaccine, but change them with social safety nets and medicare for all.
Expand social security, disability, and stimulus payments to address healthcare inequity.
"Considering the pandemic and this country's racial economic and health disparities, many Black women are struggling to provide for their families and survive during these trying times," says Lucina Kayee, co-founder of MY Generation, a member on the Every Child Deserves a Family Act Campaign, which works to ensure culturally competent and affirming care for all children. "Biden's administration should not just expand stimulus checks, but take all of these intricacies to task and examine how their proposed policies leave Black women, particularly Disabled Black women out." She cites expanded disability and social security benefits, and a single payer healthcare system, as legislation that could dramatically improve the lives of Black women, and undo the harm a lack of such policies has caused. "If there were policies that recognized the intersections of my identities and engaged with empathy and care rather than punitive measures, then I would have experienced much less harm and an easier transition out of the foster care system," Kayee, who is Muslim and queer, says. "Now, as an adult I recognize how so many Black women are suffering under the pandemic, in part due to the lack of a proper healthcare system that recognizes [us]."
Kayee says Black women have been left out of receiving disability benefits due to the program's racist history. Previous COVID-19 relief packages haven't addressed the specific needs of people with disabilities, Biden's current plan will provide stimulus checks for adults with disabilities who were ineligible before, but as Michelle Diament writes for the Disability Scoop, "Disability advocates have been pushing for months to get extra funding allocated as service providers have struggled in the face of higher costs and lower utilization as a result of the pandemic."
Defund police and decriminalize sex work.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, spending over $182 billion dollars every year to lock up nearly 1% of our adult population. Biden proposes to invest $300 million into the nation's police, to focus on community policing and policies that are preventative, even though his base supports defunding the police and allocating those funds to address the needs of hyper-surveilled and policed communities. While some of Biden's proposals address how poverty and drug-use have been criminalized in this country, his plan inadequately meets the demands of Black activists that want police funding to be dramatically decreased, if not outright abolishing police all together. Camonghne Felix, head of communications at Blue State, a creative and strategic agency, and the former director of surrogates and strategic communications for Senator Elizabeth Warren, spoke to me over the phone about the need to prioritize the marginalized Black women that delivered the White House to Biden and Harris, saying "The Biden administration should consider [our] diverse and in some ways disparate experiences ... and not use the applaudable diversity of the White House as a way to not include everyday people who are not in the White House in that conversation." For starters, addressing police brutality with a heavy hand.
Imara Jones, the creator of TransLab Media, a cross-platform journalism, personal storytelling and narrative project, speaks specifically about the concerns of trans Black women, calling to "reverse the weaponization of the federal government against trans people." Jones says, "If they wanted to be really bold, they would look at things such as sex work decriminalization." Jones continues, calling for an economic safety net for trans women that would mean they are less at risk of experiencing violence in such disenfranchised work in the first place. "I believe that with focus and dedication, we could have a revolutionary four years for trans people in this country, not only with respect to full equality in the law, but begin to move more toward full equality in society."
Cancel student loan debt — and then some.
Black women have the highest student loan debt of any racial and ethnic group in this country which accounts for a huge part of the racial wealth gap: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a full 86.8% of Black students take out federal loans. Labor Department data from 2020 showed that the U.S economy lost 140,000 jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, and women accounted for all the job losses, while men actually gained. A closer look shows that white women gained jobs, as well, while Black women and women of color dealt with an even higher amount of job loss. Not only are Black women paid 61 cents for every dollar a white man receives, Black women have lost work during this pandemic as student loan debt payments linger. Biden plans to continue the suspension of interest and payments during the pandemic but that isn't enough. "They owe it to us to make sure that we don't have to carry this burden of cost on top of the burdens that we are already facing by just existing in this country," Camonghne Felix asserts.
In his first 100 days as president, Biden can actualize material change for the Black women who got him in office. He took the stage on Wednesday with a message of unity for the country, but there can't be unity if there isn't equity, and people can't have hope without policies that will directly impact and ease their lives. And, as this election goes to show, what benefits Black women benefits everyone else. Black trans, disabled, immigrant, and Muslim voices don't only need to be heard and amplified, but their futures need to be considered and fought for through action. Campaign promises must be turned into better realities for the most marginalized among us. People have lost hope, and rightfully so, as the pandemic rages on with no relief in sight, but the demands are there. President Biden has expressed his intention to turn around the pandemic as an urgent priority. He needs to really do that.
Imara Jones speaks to this hope pragmatically, saying, "One of the things that we've learned over the past 12 years, including the Obama administration, but especially in the last four, is that the government can have a big impact on whatever it wants to have an impact on. If it doesn't want to have an impact on something, it doesn't. My hope is that if the will is there, and I believe the will is there, I think that the next four years can be revolutionary for the life of Black women and also trans women." Our imaginations are limited, but so is our time. This administration knows what it needs to do to satisfy the urgent needs of everyone in this country, now we have to be courageous and relentless enough to make sure they follow through.