When President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the plan he was introducing to “rebuild the backbone of America” would “bring everybody along,” he meant it. “Regardless of your background, your color, your religion, everybody gets to come along,” he said. What that means is billions of dollars to be invested in communities of color that haven’t just been ignored for generations of federal lawmakers, but harmed.
It’s a start at correcting those wrongs, with $20 billion dedicated specifically to “reconnect” communities of color that were bulldozed, paved under, and cut into parts by previous “redevelopment” and “urban renewal” programs that emphasized building highways to bring white suburbanites into cities by plowing through existing neighborhoods. “These highways were essentially built as conduits for wealth,” Eric Avila, an urban historian at the University of California, Los Angeles told The New York Times. “Primarily white wealth, jobs, people, markets. The highways were built to promote the connectivity between suburbs and cities. The people that were left out were urban minorities. African-Americans, immigrants, Latinos.” That’s one festering wound Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are committed to addressing.
“A lot of previous government investment in infrastructure purposely excluded these communities,” Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy director of Biden’s National Economic Council, told the Times. “So if you look at where we need to invest in infrastructure now, a lot of it is concentrated in these communities.” That includes the communities like Flint, Michigan, poisoned by the lead in their drinking water; Black, Hispanic and tribal communities existing alongside Superfund sites; and urban and rural Black, Latino, and tribal communities who have less access to affordable high-speed internet. The plan also dedicates $20 million to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for upgrading facilities, research infrastructure, and laboratories. The funding includes the creation of a new national lab at an HBCU.