Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is currently running for president, and every month she will pen a special op-ed for ESSENCE readers.
For all our nation’s triumphs, our 250-year-old story cannot be told without highlighting the impact of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination, and mass incarceration. And the legacy of racial injustice and systemic inequity pervades almost all the major challenges facing our country today.
So when people ask me to talk about “Black issues,” I always reply: “I’m so glad you want to talk about the economy. About health care. About national security.”
Because we know Black issues are America’s issues. Our community cares about the same things the rest of the country does — but hundreds of years of systemic racism demands our leaders give our problems specific attention.
For example, the typical Black family has just $10 of wealth for every $100 held by a white family — and much of this disparity can be traced back to racist redlining policies designed to make it harder for Black families to buy a home. It also excluded Black entrepreneurs from tapping home equity to start new businesses and Black students from pulling out the equity to pay for college instead of taking out predatory loans. Lack of access to homeownership has created intergenerational debt — and a massive racial wealth gap.
To right these wrongs and write the next chapter my black homeownership plan will invest $100 billion to offer loans to families living in federally subsidized housing or traditionally redlined districts. This will help up to 4 million families with the down payments to finally buy a home.
Black women also care deeply about health care — as we face a three to four times higher risk of death from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Implicit biases in our health care system where Black women raising legitimate concerns are dismissed as “hysterical” or “paranoid,” led to fatal health effects.
Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address these persistent biases in our health system. That’s why I was the first to introduce a plan to tackle maternal mortality. As president, I’ll pass the Maternal CARE Act, which creates a $25 million grant initiative for implicit bias training for health care professionals and provides grants to help states to deliver high-quality care.
And reckoning with our long, painful history of racism has become a national security issue as well. In 2016, Russia sought to undermine our democracy by interfering in our elections and sowing hate and division. When they wanted to generate the most heat and dissension among us, what issue did they most often exploit? Our Achilles’ heel: race.
We need to tackle this head-on to keep our country safe. None of this can happen while there’s a racist in the White House — one who uses his platform to tell elected Congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came.
We need a president who understands Black history and American history are one and the same. One who knows where we stand on issues of equality in every area speaks to our American identity.
We can and must turn the page and write the next chapter of American history. We won’t ignore the chapters that came before, but we will keep our eyes front and head high — seeing what can be unburdened by what has been.