United States President Joe Biden speaks during a commemoration ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1, 2021.

Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced new measures his government is taking to narrow the racial wealth gap during a speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday.

The President visited Tulsa to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in US history.

“I come here to help fill the silence. Because in the silence the wounds deepen, ”said Biden in a memorable speech about the dark legacy of violent racism and white supremacy in America. “As painful as it is, wounds only heal in memory,” he said. “We just can’t bury pain and trauma forever.”

On May 31, 1921, white racists attacked Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, one of the then richest black communities in America. Countless blacks have been killed – estimates range from 55 to more than 300 – and 1,000 homes and businesses have been looted and set on fire in what remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history.

In the century since the Tulsa massacre, black Americans have faced discrimination across the US economy, in housing, banking, and the workplace.

The average net wealth of white households is now roughly eight times the net worth of black households, a racial wealth gap that widened during the Covid pandemic.

Biden campaigned for the president as a pledge to address systemic racism and gaps in opportunity in all aspects of American life.

“Terrifyingly, the percentage of black American homeowners is lower today than it was 50 years ago and that is wrong and we are determined to change that,” the president said Tuesday.

Biden focused on growing equity and gaining access to two major wealth generators for Americans: home ownership and small business. In this regard, he announced:

  1. The creation of an inter-agency initiative to eradicate inequalities in the valuation of housing, led by Marcia Fudge, Minister for Housing and Urban Development.
  2. Two new rules of the Fair Housing Act that reverse the efforts of the HUD during the Trump administration to weaken the protections afforded by the law.
  3. The aim is to increase the proportion of federal contracts awarded to small, disadvantaged companies by 50% over the next five years. Currently, about 10% of federal contracts go to SDBs annually, totaling about $ 50 billion.

Notably, Biden’s remarks lacked specific action on two issues that were at the center of the debate on how to promote racial justice in the US economy: student loan waivers and redress for slavery.

As a candidate, Biden pledged to use federal powers to cancel thousands of dollars in debt for every student in America. So far, however, his government has not presented a plan or a timetable for implementing the debt relief.

Some economists estimate that student loan debt accounts for up to a quarter of the racial wealth gap between blacks and whites aged 30-35.

Another issue Biden avoided was the issue of redress, despite a campaign underway in Tulsa to compensate the last living survivors of the 1921 massacre.

Biden said his signed $ 2 trillion infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, could help fill the racial wealth gap. “It’s about well-paid jobs, financial stability and the opportunity to build a generational wealth. It’s about economic growth for our country and the rest of the world that is now leaving us behind, ”he said.

Infrastructure, said Biden, is much more than just roads.

“Instead of just talking about infrastructure, we’re talking about rebuilding roads and highways, filling the sidewalks and cracks, installing street lights and high-speed internet, and creating safe workplaces and playgrounds,” he said.

“Access to health care, clean air and water, nearby grocery stores with fresh vegetables and groceries, these are all things we can do.”

According to the White House, there are several proposals in the American Jobs Plan that could specifically address the racial wealth gap. This includes a new neighborhood home tax credit, which offers a tax credit to investors renovating homes in low-income and derelict areas, where property remediation often costs more than it can sell.

Another move that could help narrow the gap is a $ 15 billion fund for a neighborhood reconnection program that would provide grants to upgrade or redesign highways that run through the middle of downtown areas US cities lead.

But these initiatives are still in the planning phase. The American employment plan has yet to be legislated by Congress, let alone passed into law. And with only one seat in the Senate, Democrats have few opportunities to pass laws without a Republican vote.

The White House has spent the past three weeks negotiating with a group of Republicans in the Senate to work out a bipartisan infrastructure bill that could be passed by majority in both houses.

But those talks have stalled and Biden has come under increasing pressure over the past week to give them up.

Democrats are increasingly focused on pushing the president’s domestic agenda through a budget vote bill, a complex legislative maneuver that requires only 51 votes in the Senate.