By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., President and CEO, National Newspaper Publishers Association
When President-elect Joe Biden pounded the podium after the November 2020 elections and proclaimed, “The Black community has always had my back,” he also pledged to make the Biden Administration accountable and reflective of the interests of Black Americans and all others who stand for freedom, justice, equality, and economic empowerment. That was certainly good news.
Yet, as the Biden-Harris Transition Team moves forward to create one of the most diverse and inclusive administrations in the history of the United States, there are those who take exception to including Black Americans and other people of color who have had significant private sector work experience.
I know how complex and critical the new administration’s selection of nominees and appointees can be. I served on the Clinton-Gore Transition Team in 1992-1993 and I witnessed firsthand how standards were applied to ensure that the best talented and experienced people were recruited to serve in the Administration without exclusion due to race or prior career experience. I am speaking out about this issue, because now is not the time for silence as a result of fear from the right or from the left.
As President-elect Biden looks to fill his Cabinet, White House staff, and the various agencies throughout the federal government, Biden will look to talented men and women from all walks of life to help him and Vice President-elect Harris to end a deadly pandemic, rebuild a stalled economy, and make America’s future progress and sustainability accessible to all of its citizens. The Biden-Harris Transition Team should not be forced to exclude talented people of color because they have chosen certain career paths. The vast majority of people of color, particularly Black people, do not come from generational wealth and most often are the first in their families to attend college. When they graduate and choose to go into public service, it is truly a personal sacrifice because they often do so with a heavy debt burden.
To relieve themselves of that burden when their time in public service comes to an end, they often turn to the private sector for employment so that they can provide for their families, purchase a home, and build wealth. Those who consider themselves to be in the progressive left, counterproductively miss the point when they apply a “no private sector work” standard to people of color looking to come back and serve their country in the Biden-Harris administration. Those well-intentioned but misguided left progressives don’t realize that such a standard is unjustly punitive and ignores the racial and economic inequities in our nation.
If we are to ever bridge the racial and class divisions in our nation, we must learn from our history rather than continue the stereotypes, fears, and prejudices of the past. The Biden-Harris Administration, like the Obama-Biden Administration, has an historic opportunity to move the nation forward toward “a more perfect Union.” Experienced and talented Black leaders in the public and private sectors will help the Biden-Harris Administration to achieve future success towards an inclusive, sustainable and equitable transformation of the United States of America.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in Washington, DC, and executive producer & host of The Chavis Chronicles on PBS TV.