What does the Congressional Black
Caucus do? It takes Majority Whip James Clyburn to make it
understandable. "It's not only what we make happen, but what we
stop from happening," Clyburn told a standing room only crowd at
the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Black History Month
Celebration on February 26. His words are instructive for folks who
get their news from sound bites and tweets. The legislative process
is rarely fully televised, and those who put brakes on nonsense
proposals never make the headlines. The February 26 event made it
clear, in celebration, that the Congressional Black Caucus is often
effective on the front lines and the sidelines.
116th Congress includes fifty-five members of the Congressional Black
Caucus, an incredibly diverse group of African Americans who approach
Black liberation (although some might not use the term) differently.
Among the fifty-five, there are five who now chair House committees,
including Congressional representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA), who
chairs the Financial Services Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Robert
"Bobby" Scott (D-VA) who chairs the Education and Labor
Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) who chairs the Homeland Security
Committee, and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) who chairs the Government
Oversight Committee. Cummings was the only one of the five who was
not present, understandably so when one reflected on his leadership
in the hearing that examined Michael Cohen, the jail-bound attorney
who formerly represented the Nation's Prevaricator-in-Chief.
of them talked about the challenges they face in their roles,
especially the fact that progressive legislation that leaves the
House of Representatives is often unlikely to pass the
Republican-dominated United States Senate and the obstreperous Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (my words, not theirs). But each
also talked about issues they will address in their leadership.
Congresswoman Waters can subpoena tax returns and bank records. She
spoke of the many ways banking boards lack diversity and plans to
establish a diversity and inclusion subcommittee as part of the
Financial Services Committee. Bennie Thompson and Eddie Bernice
Johnson talked about directing money to HBCUs and about the ways that
some universities are able to get the majority of federal dollars.
Congressman Bobby Scott intrigued me when he talked about the way the
media is interested in drama, not substance. On a day when he dealt
with both the minimum wage and higher education legislation, most of
the questions he got from the media were about Blackface and other
scandals in Virginia.
search for the salacious has been the theme of the 45 administration.
One does not have to search far to find payments to prostitutes,
pandering to potentates, and other chicanery. The real trickery,
however, is happening when our regulatory structure is being
decimated, when payday lending rules are hanged by the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau to make predatory lending easier and more
exploitative; when education regulations are being changed to make
access for Black and other students of color even harder than it is
now; when labor regulations are being changed to exploit unions. The
federal minimum wage, at $7.25, has not increased in a decade. As
such, the Raise The Wage Act should be making headlines. Instead,
all cameras, all eyes are on the scandals that dominate this
celebrating the Congressional Black Caucus, I'm not touting their
perfection, because the collective caucus is flawed as any other
organization. My biggest bone to pick with Caucus members is all of
them won't sign or align themselves with HR 40, the reparations
legislation that Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced thirty
years ago. Many say the reparations conversation is impractical.
From my perspective, if you are interested in economic justice, you
must be interested in restorative and reparatory justice for the
descendants of the enslaved people who built this country. That
means developing public policy to close the wealth gap. That means
developing public policy to increase access to education and
educating a nation with leaders and teachers who seem to think it is
okay to run around in Blackface, hand children cotton bolls or more
alarmingly, have children (in South Carolina) actually pick cotton
and sing slave songs. That means examining the ways that racist
(yes, racist) legislation has exacerbated, not closed the wealth gap.
Congressional Black Caucus and, indeed, the Democratic Party that all
of them belong to, is flawed, but there are accomplishments, as well.
The challenge for us is to lift up the accomplishments amidst a
culture that values scandal instead of achievement.