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Biden labors to deliver promised change to African Americans

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Retired general Lloyd Austin, seen here with Joe Biden on Memorial Day 2021, is the first African American secretary of defense./AFP
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Jun 01, 2021 - 10:41 PM

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden — who is popular with Black Americans, a voting bloc that helped him win the White House — promised to “deliver some real change” during his first term in office.

While he and Kamala Harris, the country’s first Black vice president, have made some inroads, they already have encountered some stumbling blocks as well.

Here is a look at Biden’s relationship with the African American community, as he prepares to visit Tulsa for the 100th anniversary of a race massacre in the Oklahoma city, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history:

Lifeline from Black voters in 2020 

As he ramped up his campaign for the presidency in early 2020, Biden suffered three stinging losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Recovery looked unlikely. But then came South Carolina.

His team remained steadfast in its belief that Biden — Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years — would win the primary in the Palmetto State in late February, as pundits started writing him off.

Indeed he crushed his rivals, thanks in no small part to the large number of African American voters, and then cruised to the Democratic Party’s nomination.

Then in November 2020, as Biden faced off at the ballot box with Republican incumbent Donald Trump, Black voters again came through for the Delaware Democrat, playing a key role in his win.

Biden, a veteran politician, did not forget them in his victory speech.

“When this campaign was at its lowest — the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours,” he  said.

History-making diverse cabinet 

Along with Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, Biden put together the most diverse cabinet in US presidential history.

Retired general Lloyd Austin became the first African American secretary of defense, and Cecilia Rouse is the first Black woman to chair the presidential Council of Economic Advisors.

Black Americans make up 13 percent of the US population but 22 percent of the group that voted for Biden in November 2020, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank focused on Black studies.

After the first 100 days of Biden’s term, 24 percent of his cabinet identified as African American, according to the center, which however highlighted in April that there was still “much more work to ensure fair representation and racial equity for Black communities” across the entire government.

George Floyd’s family at White House 

The May 2020 death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who suffocated under the knee of a white police officer now convicted of murder, sparked a reckoning in America about race, and a historic wave of protests.

Biden, in the middle of his White House run, met Floyd’s family in private before his funeral in Houston. One year later, as president, he welcomed Floyd’s loved ones to the White House on the May 25 anniversary of his death.

Echoing the words of Floyd’s daughter Gianna, who said her dad would “change the world,” Biden said: “He did.”

Difficult path to police reform 

“We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America,” Biden said in a speech to Congress in late April, referring to the Floyd case. “Now is our opportunity to make real progress.”

A few weeks before, in a meeting with Black lawmakers, he vowed to “deliver some real change.”

But a major part of that change, proposed police reform, has stalled on Capitol Hill.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” in March, but has little chance of getting through the Senate in its current form.

Republicans and Democrats are however negotiating a possible compromise.

Thorny issue of reparations 

After a year marked by Floyd’s death, Tuesday’s anniversary of the massacre on Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” has given new impetus to calls for Black Americans to receive reparations for past trauma.

Biden supports a bill that would create a commission of experts tasked with making proposals about possible reparations to the descendants of the four million Africans forcibly brought to the United States as slaves.

The draft, which is limited in scope, must be submitted to a vote in the House, and its future is uncertain in the Senate.

On Tuesday, ahead of Biden’s remarks in Tulsa, the White House announced new economic aid to the African American community, notably aimed at addressing racial disparities in home and small business ownership.

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