Swearing in History: A Moment for A Movement
January 20, 2021
By Mike Bland
National Director, Leaders of Color
After four exhausting years of clawing our way toward the surface of decency—just to even get by—the time has finally come to install, as the crux of our national identity, the integrity that this country has continued to misplace.
The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 46th President and Vice President of the United States, respectively, not only gives us a chance to take back the “soul of our nation,” but it also reveals to us a glimpse of who we as a country could be—of who we should be.
Instead of an Executive Branch of primarily white men, we now have not only the first woman and the first person of color in one of the nation’s most powerful seats, but also the most diverse cabinet ever. In addition, the results of the 2020 election brought a record number of women, racial minorities, and members of the LGBTQIA community into 117th Congress; and thus, for the first time, our nation’s ruling body is actually beginning to resemble the America it serves.
From Yvette Herrell (R-NM)—the first Republican Native American woman in Congress; to Marilyn Strickland, (D-WA)—the first Black woman to represent her state in Congress; to New York Democratic Reps.-elect Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres—who will become the first two openly gay Black and Afro-Latino members of Congress; to the Senate runoff victory of Rep. Warnock—the first black Democrat from the South since Reconstruction, the fabric of power within our nation is being sewn with a bit more truth.
Furthermore, Vice President Harris is a proud graduate of Howard University, making her the first alumnus of an HBCU in the White House, and heavily underscoring the importance of investing in our historically Black colleges and universities—which have traditionally been overlooked and underfunded. With President Biden’s plan of allotting $70 billion to these institutions, we certainly have an auspicious start, but not one that will entirely excuse the neglect of the past.
In a similar vein, despite the breath of positive progression these recent changes have given our country, this isn’t our Monopoly moment; a collection of right moves does not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card make.
The reality is, time and again, our national identity has shown itself to be fraught with white supremacy and xenophobia. From the horrors of slavery, to the slaughter of Native Americans and usurpation of their lands, to the internment camps of WWII, to the continuous murders of Black folks that are splashed almost daily across our screens, to the loud and proud acts of domestic terrorism we saw at the start of this very year, America has always clothed itself in racism.
There is nothing new about the violence we saw at the Capitol; in fact, if our national history has taught us anything, it’s that oppressors who are insecure in their positions will always act out. Therefore, it’s certainly not surprising that some of those who most openly supported the insurrectionists were the very same elected officials who themselves feel tangled in a knot of hate and fear—fear of losing their long-protected power and privilege.
Nonetheless, despite the impotent rage from those both vicious and vocal, the flashes of change we’ve seen exhibited by today’s swearing in of history means that we are poised to write a new narrative for our nation—one that can dare to step beyond prejudice and injustice.
But we have so much more work to do.
We need our white neighbors to join us in using their voices, not just at the polls, but to openly and consistently condemn racism. We need every person in this country to actively and consciously choose anti-racist actions that will work toward dismantling the systems of white supremacy that America was raised on. We also must empower our Black brothers and sisters with the ability to engender our own liberation—by providing opportunities of influence and pathways to power where they were never dreamed of before.
At Leaders of Color, we do just that. We lift up the voices that have historically been silenced and supply them with the tools they need to run for political office; to be part of real systemic change—just like Marquita Bradshaw, a Leaders of Color Memphis alumnus who, in 2020, became the first Black woman to win a major party US Senate nomination in Tennessee.
The roads of America’s history have been riddled with struggles; and while the path we now walk undoubtedly still has obstacles, the fact is, we’re beginning to see—and believe in—a clarity that lies ahead.
As Barack Obama himself said: “I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world. But I think that at the end of the day, if we work hard, and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right…the world gets a little better each time.”
There is a beginning of belief—and it feels a lot like hope. There is a shape to the future—and it looks a lot like progress. We have a chance…so let’s choose not to squander it.
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