President Joe Biden’s newly unveiled $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which is designed to revive the US’s infrastructure and tackle the climate crisis over the next eight years, offers some Black Americans hope — balanced with caution.
To understand why the plan elicits hope, consider that it does something at once small and very big: It pays explicit attention to the variety of racial disparities bound up with the country’s infrastructure.
For instance, Biden would spend $20 billion on “a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access,” per the White House Fact Sheet.
Already, the President seems determined to keep his word.
For close to a decade, Amy Stelly, an architectural designer, has fought to remove the Claiborne Expressway that runs through her Black neighborhood in New Orleans and leaves residents to suffer from highway pollution.
Biden’s plan mentions the highway by name as an example of a previous transportation investment that, over the decades, has harmed communities.
“I’m floored,” Stelly told The Washington Post. “I’m thrilled to hear President Biden would call out the Claiborne Expressway as a racist highway.”
She added: “It’s great the federal government and this administration is recognizing that this is something that must be corrected if we are to be fair and just in America.”
In addition, Biden would spend $45 billion on replacing all of the country’s lead pipes and service lines because “no American family should still be receiving drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” as the fact sheet puts it.
It’s not tough to grok how this move would improve the health of Black communities. The years-long water crisis that began in Flint, Michigan, in 2014, when the city started to take inadequately treated water from the Flint River, is still fresh in the US’s collective memory.
In 2017, the government-appointed Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a 129-page report saying that systemic racism played a role in the tragedy that afflicted majority-Black Flint.
Speaking with Bloomberg Law, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research detected the high levels of lead in Flint children, praised the President for viewing the crisis as a warning.
“This Biden proposal learns the lessons of Flint,” she said. “We know the science of lead. We’ve known for centuries that lead is a poison. Yet, across our country, lead is like the straw through which we’re getting drinking water.”
Amara Enyia, the policy and research coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives, echoed some of Stelly and Hanna-Attisha’s sentiments.
“It’s good that the US is actually on track to confront some crucial challenges with aging infrastructure — roads, bridges, those sorts of…