5 takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union for Black America

As President Biden faced a fractured Congress, his administration aims to address a host of issues despite the volatile political climate.

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President Joe Biden faced a politically-fractured Congress as he soundly delivered his second State of The Union address on Tuesday (Feb. 7). From the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol building, Biden covered an extensive list of issues during the address. TheGrio examines five takeaways from the speech that uniquely concern Black Americans.

Biden mentions Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and his historic post as minority speaker

US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (LR bows as US President Joe Biden acknowledges him during the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2023. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Early on in the address, President Biden, shortly after addressing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, turned his attention to U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who became the first Black minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jeffries, visibly humbled by the acknowledgment, silently gestured his appreciation. 

The Black unemployment rate 

Although the president didn’t specify numbers as it relates to Black workers, Biden touted the 3.4 percent unemployment rate, which is the lowest rate since May 1969.

The president did correctly state that the unemployment rate for Black workers is at a near-record low of 5.4%, with the record low listed at 5.3 percent. It should be noted that employment data as it pertains to Black workers only covers the past 50 years. 

Biden acknowledged Black bridge worker during segment on America’s infrastructure

Biden zeroed in on the rebuilding of American roads and highways, centering on a bipartisan infrastructure deal that will funnel $1.6 billion in federal grants to repair the 60-year-old Brent Spence Bridge. The project will also add another bridge structure alongside it, ending years of political gridlock.

Saria Gwin-Maye, a member of the Ironworkers Local 44 union in Cincinnati, was one of Biden’s special guests and received a standing ovation for her union’s service.

“For 30 years, she (Gwin-Maye) tells me she’s been a proud member of Ironworkers Local 44, known as the ‘cowboys of the sky’ who built the Cincinnati skyline,” Biden said. “Saria said she can’t wait to be ten stories above the Ohio River building that new bridge. God bless her. That’s pride.”

Immediately after, Biden pledged to repair lead pipes in schools and childcare centers, something that has plagued millions of American homes, and most especially, those in Black neighborhoods and communities. That opened a segue into providing available high-speed Internet access to working families and students.

Biden honors parents of Tyre Nichols

Rodney Wells (2nd L) and RowVaughn Wells (3rd L), parents of Tyre Nichols, are applauded after US President Joe Biden acknowledged them during the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2023. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

As expected, the shocking death of Memphis, Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of city police was a centerpiece of the address regarding the issue of public safety. Biden spoke carefully of the dangers Black people face as it relates to interacting with law enforcement, fairly noting that he’s never had to “have that talk” with his children.

While the president didn’t speak at long length to the contentious issue of police reform, he did artfully state that just as much as police officers who don the badge deserve to go home at night, so does the public they’re sworn to protect.

In a touching moment, Biden quoted Nichols’ mother, who said of her son that Nichols “was a beautiful soul and something good will come from this.”

This section of the address made a callback to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. In the absence of congressional action, Biden noted signed executive orders banning controversial police methods like chokeholds and restricting no-knock warrants.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first SOTU appearance

US Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2023. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

While it is common that sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices do not attend the State of The Union address, the appearance of Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman elected to the nation’s highest court, was a significant moment.

Unlike the partisan divide that split the House chamber as it always had, the justices did not visibly react to any of President Biden’s talking points. It did appear, however, that Justice Brown Jackson received a raucous round of applause.

In all, President Biden showed steely resolve in the face of jeering from Republican members of Congress who attempted to disrupt and derail the address. Biden was also leaning into the criticism and joked back at times. 

In Closing

President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), right, listen during a State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The address also covered the rising dangers of drug addiction, the overreach of social media, crime in cities, the rising costs of healthcare, and much more that also have deep resonance in the lives of Black Americans. 

The Biden-Harris administration, facing a GOP-controlled House and a politically-strained Senate, will barrel ahead as 2024 looms in the distance with all the hopes and promises delivered in the address.

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