Spotlighting Three Black Women in Biden’s New Administration
By: Jamie McAfee, Communications Co-Chair, Global Women’s Caucus
Vice President Kamala Harris, Georgian heroine Stacey Abrams and National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman made headlines around the world for their historic achievements. Their stages were broad, glittering with lights, flashbulbs popping, iPhones recording and reporters shouting. Notoriety well-earned and deserved, African American women are walking across the international stage filled with hope that this change in the air, swept in by Black women voters, is permanent. Black women fought to mobilize voters, and on-the-ground efforts helped turnout people of color, pushing Biden to victory. During his acceptance speech in Philadelphia, President-elect Biden acknowledged the groundswell of support from Black voters throughout the election process when he stated, “…especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest—the African-American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Since the Inauguration, the new administration has tackled various crises that directly impact communities of color, but President Biden is going beyond policy. He seems to be living up to his campaign promises by staffing his cabinet to look like America, starting with the selection of Harris as his running mate after a contentious primary. With over 1200 Senate-confirmed appointments to fill, we look at three Black women President Biden has nominated for leadership positions. Each woman has a unique, inspirational story worth exploring beyond these introductions.
Marcia Fudge: HUD Secretary
On February 8th, Marcia Fudge was confirmed by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs as the next Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her nomination now goes on to the full Senate. The committee vote passed 17 to seven, with all 12 of the committee’s Democrats and five Republicans voting to advance Fudge’s nomination. If confirmed, Fudge will follow in the footsteps of her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, Patricia Roberts Harris, as the second Black woman to lead this department. In the entire history of our country, only four Black women have served as a U.S. Cabinet Secretary.
Biden’s nomination of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to serve as the next HUD Secretary is a tribute to her stalwart leadership and impressive career. His transition team put out this statement when he nominated Fudge in December, "A former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, and past Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Fudge is a longtime champion of affordable housing, urban revitalization, infrastructure investment, and other reforms to enhance the safety, prosperity, and sustainability of American communities.” As Secretary of HUD, Fudge will play a key role in the administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused millions of people to fall behind on rent and mortgage payments. Fudge was just elected to a seventh term representing a majority Black district that includes parts of Cleveland and Akron before being nominated. As a former Mayor, Rep. Fudge will understand the local perspective on a national level.
President Biden has set out an ambitious housing agenda with an eye toward equity and equality, ending policies that enable racial discrimination in housing and lending. “Housing is a right in America, and homeownership is an essential tool to wealth creation and to be passed down to generations,” Biden said as he signed an executive order reversing two key rules put into place by his predecessor that relaxed discriminatory practices embedded in HUD standards. It’s worth noting that prior to the pandemic, Black home ownership was at its lowest rate in 50 years. As HUD Secretary, Fudge has a clear directive from President Biden to pursue racial justice and equity in housing as top priorities. “It bears mentioning, particularly in this moment of crisis, that HUD — perhaps more than any other department — exists to serve the most vulnerable people in America,” Fudge said in her prepared remarks. “That mandate matters a great deal to me. It is consistent with my own values, and it is precisely what has always motivated me to service.” She called the half-million homeless Americans counted in 2019 a "devastating statistic -- even before you consider the reality of what COVID-19 has done to exacerbate the crisis." She also said her first priority as HUD secretary would be to help people who have sought extended eviction protections, or are behind on mortgage payments.
Cecilia Rouse: Chair, Council of Economic Advisers (CEA)
In 2020, women lost more jobs than men following historic gains in female employment the year before. Women are also expected to take longer to reenter the labor force, with many held back over a lack of child care, but women of color have been hit the hardest. They make up the majority of caretaking and service industry roles and now, a year into a far-reaching crisis, they are having the hardest time getting rehired, according to a new report from American Progress. Enter economist Cecilia Rouse, nominated by President Biden to lead the Council of Economic Advisers and help steer the most unequal recession in modern history. Split wide open by the global pandemic, an economic gender and racial gap exists that may take a generation to repair.
Rouse is a prominent labor economist with expertise in the economics of education and equality, as well as issues related to long-term unemployment. If confirmed, Rouse would become the first African American woman, and only the fourth woman, to lead the CEA in its 74 years of its existence. Rouse previously served as a member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. She will be a close adviser to President Biden as the Administration proposes an equitable, robust recovery package to Congress.
Rouse is “one of the most distinguished economists in the country, an expert on labor economics, race, poverty and education,” Biden said when Rouse was formally nominated. Her work during the Great Recession of 2008 focused on the ways women and people of color are disadvantaged in the labor force. Many economists during the time were focused on job losses among men. But speaking at a 2012 White House forum on women and the economy, Rouse pointed out that men’s employment was, in fact, recovering much faster than women. She also noted that women were spending longer periods on unemployment insurance and were more likely to have lost public-sector jobs that would be slow to return. Sound familiar?
Similar worrying gender and racial gaps are emerging during the current crisis. Rouse said she will address the immediate crisis and the deeper, discriminatory injustices with an eye on equality, “Today our country is living through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” she said in a statement provided to the committee. “Millions of families have had their lives turned upside down, the economic security they’ve worked so hard to build eroded almost overnight by the economic impact of the pandemic. Far too many have slipped through our frayed safety net into hardship and hopelessness. And structural inequities that have always existed within our economy have not just been exposed, but exacerbated, their impact more devastating than ever before. Rouse made it clear that she wants to build back better: “…It is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy better than it was before—making it work for everyone by increasing the availability of fulfilling jobs and leaving no one vulnerable to falling through the cracks.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield: US Ambassador to the United Nations
Growing up in segregated Louisiana, Linda Thomas-Greenfield says she learned to face adversity as one of millions of young Black Americans in the 1950s-1970s struggling to make their mark in an era of Jim Crow segregation and violent, systemic racism. "My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place," Thomas-Greenfield wrote on Twitter when nominated by President Biden, "I've carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service — and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations."
One of eight children, Thomas did not come from an educated family. Her father never learned to read or write, and her mother never made it past the 8th grade. Thomas-Greenfield went on as one of the few African Americans to study at Louisiana State University in the early 1970s. David Duke was a fixture on campus at the time. Upon completing her graduate studies at University of Wisconsin, she taught political science at Bucknell University. In the 1980s Thomas-Greenfield worked her way up the foreign service ladder, an institution that would be roiled by charges of racial discrimination. She served posts in hostile environments on the front lines of American democracy in Jamaica, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, Pakistan, and Switzerland. Under President George W. Bush, she served a stint as U.S. ambassador to Liberia and, under Obama, as Director-General of the Foreign service and Assistant Secretary OF WHICH DEPARTMENT? for African Affairs.
If confirmed by the Senate, Thomas-Greenfield will play a key role in President Joe Biden’s attempts to redirect U.S. foreign policy from his predecessor’s isolationist agenda and repair relations with U.S. allies through diplomacy, conversation, and generosity. She will take a more respectable, unpretentious approach to international relationships, branded as “Gumbo diplomacy”. It will be based on her practice of courting foreign dignitaries over the years with her home-cooked Cajun dish. “She has a great way of being tough without being disagreeable,” recalled her old boss and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, saying that he trusted her to deliver tough messages to foreign leaders. “I’m a 100 percent fan of what she is capable of doing. She can be absolutely as tough as you need to be.”
During her confirmation hearing, Thomas-Greenfield indicated the United States would play a more active role at the United Nations and said Chinese efforts to expand that country’s power would be her top priority if confirmed. She also emphasized the Biden Administration’s plans to rejoin U.N. institutions that Trump left—the Human Rights Council and UNESCO. She made the case for the U.S. to return as a leader on the international stage, with a platform rooted in “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security.”
“We must have the courage to insist on reforms that make the U.N. efficient and effective,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “Of all of our diplomatic tools, perhaps our most powerful instrument is the United Nations itself.”