He slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressed support for Ukraine, praised federal efforts during the pandemic, urged funding for police, asked Republicans to back his agenda and pressed for lower prescription drug costs.
But as the world was watching, President Joe Biden during his first State of the Union address did not mention recent verdicts on federal hate crimes, slavery reparations, rising discriminatory housing appraisals against Black homeowners, student loan debt, efforts to curb teaching Black history in schools and the pandemic’s impact on poor neighborhoods throughout the country.
When it came to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Biden in less than five seconds told lawmakers to give their support. He urged Republicans to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and asked lawmakers to confirm the nation’s first Black female Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, who many television viewers didn’t see during the live event.
What viewers did see for the first time was two powerful women who sat behind the president during the speech. One was the nation’s first Black female vice president, Kamala Harris, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But symbolism wasn’t enough to stop some Blacks from feeling the president didn’t connect with them on the issues that affect them. Some remain disappointed in a president who won the White House with the overwhelming help of Black voters.
Analysts say Biden’s speech was aimed at unifying a deeply divided Congress, where Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate continue to spar on the president’s economic agenda on infrastructure and the economy.
With inflation and other domestic and foreign issues facing America, President Biden is under pressure to improve his dismal approval ratings as Democrats face an uphill battle in maintaining control of House and Senate during the midterm elections.
But there is concern that Blacks will be overlooked as Biden tackles problems that are affecting his approval ratings. Inflation and crime are two of the biggest issues Republicans are leveling against Biden.
Federal hate crimes against Blacks and student loan debt are hitting Black America hard. Black women are among the most burdened group of student loan borrowers. They also have the highest percentage of voting for Biden and most Democratic presidential candidates.
Voting rights are also a problem among Blacks, especially in Red states, particularly Georgia, which implemented some of the strictest laws in the country after it flipped to Blue during the 2020 elections.
“I know better, especially when it comes to this country that pretends to be great but refuses to accept the atrocities and give reparations to victims of slavery,” said Carl West, founder of the online news publication TBT.
“Biden has said the U.S. is committing several billion dollars to help stabilize Ukraine, which is admirable. But Blacks are still waiting for payment for past wars against the Negro race. How can this country truly be a great nation as long as it remains a racist society?”
While police shootings and arrests continue to disproportionally affect Blacks, during his SOTU address, Biden urged governments to fund police, not defund them, a request that’s viewed as placating Republican lawmakers who opposed passing the George Floyd Policing Act.
“I think that was inappropriate. He didn’t have to say that,” said WVON radio host Perri Small.
One listener agreed, saying Ukraine’s problem is much bigger than police issues in America right now.
“As a Black woman, I feel that he was not talking to Black people at all,” Small said.
Attorney Janette Wilson, the senior advisor for Rainbow RUSH, said on the Perri Small Show that Biden “was trying to unify the House and the Senate, the legislative bodies, around his issues. He started opening up with those things that he felt would bode well with both Republicans and Democrats.”
Small asked Wilson if Biden was pandering to Republicans.
“I think you have to decide as a leader when and how you push people into corners, and I think he’s trying to bring the Senate closer to him. He has a similar Senate to what [President Barack Obama] had and so while the House is locked behind his issue, you have a Senate that is not voting with him. You have two senators that hold out on every issue. They vote as if they are not part of the Democratic Party. We’re not a unified America. It is clear that there are major divisions in this country along the lines of race and class.”
While Biden expressed support for Ukraine, he failed to mention the treatment of thousands of Africans who weren’t allowed to leave the country for Poland during the invasion by Russian soldiers.
Reports say between 10,000 to 16,000 African students are stuck in the country and are not being allowed to board trains while white Ukrainians are allowed to leave. Major news outlets in America are not covering the story, and some believe Biden should have mentioned it to raise awareness of the allegations as the crisis worsens in Ukraine.
Over 600,000 Ukrainians fled the country, many went to Poland. Biden in his speech did announce the U.S. is banning Russian flights from its airspace in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. Still, Nigerian students who are studying to become doctors and engineers, as non-citizens, are stuck in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.
On Monday, February 28, the NAACP released a statement saying it is “disheartened with the events surrounding the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In these crisis moments choosing citizenship over humanity is an atrocity.
“Right now in Ukraine, Black families, immigrants from the African Diaspora and other people of color, mothers, children, and students are not only facing challenges to evacuate a deadly warzone but are being pushed from trains and beaten by police officers.
“These callous acts are atrocious and reprehensible. As the world comes to the aid of the Ukraine and nations support the resettlement of people fleeing the nation, every individual must be treated with dignity and humanity.
“We call upon the Biden Administration and the United Nations to take every necessary action to protect the rights and to ensure the safe passage of all persons fleeing this blatant attack on a nation’s sovereignty.
“The NAACP will do everything in its power to fight racist, cruel acts such as these, no matter where they are happening.”
During his speech, Biden signaled that he still has hope to pass key parts of his Build Back Better agenda, despite his economic package not getting past the Senate. Biden touched on prescription drug costs and childcare costs.
Biden also outlined his plan for America to recover from the pandemic.
“We have lost so much to COVID-19. Time with one another,” Biden said. “And worst of all, much loss of life. Let’s use this moment to reset, stop looking at COVID-19 as a partisan dividing line. See it for what it is: A God-awful disease. Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies and start seeing each other for who we are: fellow Americans,” he said.