It’s Time for Black Voters to Think About the U.S. Cabinet
Trump with his cabinet. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

It’s Time for Black Voters to Think About the U.S. Cabinet

Of all the ways a president can have an…

It’s closing time. The polls will be closing shortly. Policy discussions are over. The door knocking and texting of the weekend’s final get out the vote (GOTV) push are done. The two campaigns have asked as many potential voters as possible: Have you voted yet? Do you know where your polling location is? Do you need assistance getting to the polls? It’s hard to imagine a two-year election cycle coming down to who has the better 72-hour GOTV efforts, especially in a year marked by record-breaking early voting, but it often does.

On my morning radio show, I’ve been making my own closing arguments about why it’s important to vote. A young Black man, a rapper, called in. He wasn’t interested in voting, he said — but if he were to vote, he’d probably pull the lever for Trump. His tone was assured as he told me that he is facing a system that has failed him, that has never made him feel seen. He felt like Trump was a safe bet. Something about how the so-called Platinum Plan campaign is working with Black men, and as he gave his rationale, I finally heard it: entrepreneurship and access to capital. He didn’t use that exact phrasing, but I knew what he was communicating.

The cabinet’s potential and power are rarely discussed in get-out-the-vote efforts — and rarely do we contend with how the president can appoint cabinet members who will have our best interest at heart.

While I disagreed with him, the usual counterargument — explaining everything else at stake in this election — wouldn’t work. He didn’t care about Supreme Court appointments or reversing deregulation; he needed to hear substance that was relatable to his lived experience.

So instead, I focused on the presidential cabinet, the group of officials appointed by the president. The cabinet’s potential and power are rarely discussed in GOTV efforts, and rarely do we as Black Americans contend with how the president can appoint cabinet members who will have our best interest at heart. So, as I closed with this young man, I offer you the same appeal.

Administrator of the Small Business Administration

While not always a cabinet-level position, both Clinton and Obama elevated the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the position remains in Trump’s cabinet as well. According to Washington, D.C.–based organization Prosperity Now, Black-owned businesses in the United States average only $58,000 in annual revenue, compared to $546,000 for White-owned businesses. Some of the deeper business challenges the study found among low- and middle-income Black entrepreneurs in the South were limited startup capital, particularly an inability to establish lines of credit for expansion plans or operating expenses; limited managerial and industry experience; and the difficulty of launching businesses in lower-revenue service industries in Black communities. Also noted in interviews with these entrepreneurs was a lack of supportive institutions, including those that could provide managerial training, technical assistance, and strategic advice.

The SBA’s Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development Program, known as 8(a), has incredible potential to remedy these issues, though few outside the government know about it. The 8(a) program provides participating small businesses with training, technical assistance, and contracting opportunities in the form of set-aside and sole-source awards.

The challenge with 8(a)-awarded federal contracts, in addition to other contracts awarded to Black entrepreneurs, is the access to capital to fulfill the awarded contract. Biden’s plan to help Black small businesses includes doubling the funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative, which the Obama-Biden administration created to support small businesses, as well as expanding the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and supporting funding for the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, which supports local, mission-driven financial institutions in low-income areas around the United States. In making this program permanent, Biden is seeking to reverse rules enacted by the Trump administration that are making it more difficult for lenders to participate in the program and lend to African American–owned businesses (and other businesses located in underserved communities).

When Trump was talking to Ice Cube and Lil Wayne about his Platinum Plan, do you think he mentioned that he has proposed a massive 25% cut in the SBA budget for the next fiscal year — including a 35% cut in funding to Small Business Development Centers, a 20% cut to the SBA Microloan Program, and a 75% cut in the Minority Business Development Agency budget?

Secretary of the Department of Education

Among many other responsibilities, this position is responsible for the direction of our K-12 school system — a system in which literacy skills and the school-to-prison pipeline are closely related. First-graders who struggle have an 88% chance to continue to struggle as fourth-graders, and those who struggle with reading in fourth grade are four times more likely not to graduate high school on time, or they drop out entirely. Similarly, the vast majority of young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system (85%, according to some sources) are functionally illiterate. Data from the Prison Policy Initiative reinforces the connection between illiteracy and incarceration by indicating that imprisoned people are far more likely to struggle with basic reading, writing, and computation skills.

Public schools see little in the way of support at the policy level, and the results are clear: overcrowded classrooms, and even efforts to push out lower-performing students in order to boost test scores. Zero-tolerance policies issue automatic severe punishments for misbehavior, disproportionately funneling students from two groups — racial minorities and children with disabilities — into the school-to-prison pipeline. Black students, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Additionally, the presence of police officers in schools puts children’s lives in danger and increases the likelihood that children will be incarcerated at earlier ages. Our children’s futures, quite literally, are at stake.

Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture is one of the most powerful agencies in our federal government, supporting and creating generational wealth, and we rarely talk about it. But because the polls are closing soon, let me talk directly about the Black Americans in the battleground states who are most affected — which in turn has an impact on all Black Americans.

There are about 49,000 Black farm producers nationally, mostly concentrated in Southern swing states: North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. At the start of the 20th century, one in seven farmers in the United States was Black. In the decades that followed, however, Black Americans were dispossessed of an estimated 13 million acres of land. “Black farmers have long struggled to get equal access to USDA programs that help build credit and address civil rights complaints,” Ximena Bustillo wrote in a recent Politico article. “They have pushed the government for more enforcement to retain land that has been in their families for generations at a time when farmers, generally, are facing unprecedented economic headwinds due to the pandemic and trade war disruptions.”

Joseph Biden is courting those farmers explicitly. “Black, Brown, and Native farmers have long faced barriers to growing their agricultural businesses, including unfair prices, unequal access to government support, retaliation for civil rights complaints, and outright injustice,” his plan states. “For more than 100 years the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) did little to alleviate the burdens of systemic inequality for Black, Brown, and Native farmers and was often the site of injustice.”

The former vice president has proposed two initiatives to address this growing challenge. The first, the Farm Land Purchase Assistance Program, includes credit and technical support in the form of expedited credit, low-interest loans, and technical assistance. Biden suggests he will explore the use of land trusts, cooperative farm operations, and farm credit systems geared toward Black, Brown, and Native farmers as a means to support this population and diversify our agricultural sector.

The second is a plan to protect heirs’ property, which would implement guidelines and regulations to preserve heirs’ ownership of family farms and ensure that these landowners have equal access to federal credit and agricultural programs. (For more than a century, Black, Brown, and Native farmers faced exploitation that limited their ability to retain a rightful claim to inherited property and to access federal programs.)

As for where Trump stands with Black farmers: According to an investigation by The Counter, the USDA under Trump “promoted misleading data to depict a fictional renaissance in black farming. That narrative falsely inflated the department’s record on civil rights — and ultimately cost black farmers land, money, and agency.” And Trump’s Platinum Plan fails to address agriculture at all.

This is just a sampling of a presidential cabinet — three of the 15 executive departments. But outside of the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services, they most directly affect the success, opportunities, wealth, and education of Black Americans. We must begin to look at all of the ways a president can have an impact on our day-to-day lives, and appointing competent, empathetic leaders to cabinet positions is a crucial one.

The young rapper I spoke with had a change of mind and left our conversation with a new narrative: He was ready to engage, and ready to vote, and ready to knock on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s door. He, like every other American, deserves his chance at creating generational wealth. What door will you knock on?