The hallmark of mother wit or many of the “old folk’s sayings” is simplicity. “The elders” had the talent of using the simplest statements to express depth and importance in their communication. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard “don’t let a hard head make a soft behind,” or “what happens in the dark always come to light.” Easily blown off as insignificant, these sayings were usually valuable as cautionary admonitions.
I often weigh situations against the catalog of the old folk’s sayings I have accumulated during my lifetime. I use this practice as I assess the possibilities of the Biden-Harris administration. Contrary to some assumptions, I don’t give carte blanche acceptance to political entities, even those with whom I agree. Instead, I hold them more accountable for competent and responsible conduct.
I have had few reservations with President Biden’s Cabinet choices or his numerous executive actions. Not surprisingly, I’m pleased that his initial actions hold true, or attempt to hold true, to campaign promises. My greater concern is the unlikely, but possible, onset of forgetfulness. To that possibility, I echo the admonitions of The Elders saying, “Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung you!”
It is true that in the past, Black people have given our full support to politicians who forget the importance of our votes. There are innumerable candidates who, during campaigns, have fought for pulpit space in Black churches on Sundays, but, after successful elections, pretend unfamiliarity with our interests or issues.
The Biden-Harris administration has identified “four converging crises — economic crisis, climate change, racial inequity, and COVID-19.” Not only is there convergence in these crises, there’re also significant overlaps. President Biden has promised swift action to combat these challenges. In doing so, he MUST NOT forget his promised support to the Black community.
My readers understand the economic disparities/hardships in communities of color. According to Forbes Magazine, in May 2020 the jobless rate for Blacks was 16.8% while for whites 12.4%. The median worth of Black households in 2016 was $17,150 while for white households was $171,000. Other statistics are reported, but the bottom line for Blacks is there are barriers that deny the accumulation of wealth. President Biden acknowledges these barriers and has pledged to address them.
He also acknowledges the critical impact of climate change and pledges direct and immediate action. Hurricane Katrina is an example of a dramatic environmental disaster affecting a centralized community of color. These communities are disproportionately located in proximity to industrial areas where exposure to biotoxins is the norm or, in the case of Katrina, where they’re located in environmentally unstable areas. I hope the president’s cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline permit is indicative of his recognition of the disproportionate impact of climate change/environmental issues on people of color.
Racial inequity is a problem older than the nation. Naysayers believe it will never be resolved. President Biden has established credibility in communities of color and pledged practices which will have a positive impact on law enforcement/judicial process, economics and education. Although we’ve seen nothing major, we will observe and hope.
COVID-19 has been a matter of grave concern in communities of color, especially ours, and is made more difficult by histories of unprincipled medical treatment. I have long felt that baseless assumptions are the greatest fault in cross-cultural medical treatment. Rather than exasperation, medical professionals must learn the nuances of cross-cultural competence and communication.
Tackling these converging crises individually is a tremendous task. Tackling them simultaneously is nearly impossible, with many potential missteps. We will closely monitor the Biden administration with hope, but will firmly hold him to promises made. We will enthusiastically work to achieve President Biden’s agenda, but will not accept his benign or unintentional neglect. Let’s dance!
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.