Angela Cunningham, Priscilla White and Edna Harris have a few things in common: Each is African-American women; they live in the District — though two are originally from New York — and the trio each fancy themselves as aspiring entrepreneurs.
As another Black History Month dawns, each of the vibrant women who sat inside a Wilmington, Delaware, Amtrak station on a recent chilly evening were asked what — if anything — sets this year apart from previous observances.
Each focused on America’s 45th president — Donald J. Trump.
“There’s been this feeling of the air coming out of the balloon ever since he won,” said Cunningham, a hair stylist whose working toward opening her own beauty and barber shop.
“I knew it would be bad, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad,” added White, who hopes business classes she’s taking will lead her to open her own public-relations firm.
“When Trump asked what African Americans had to lose during his campaign, somehow right then and there I knew we were in trouble,” said Harris, who is working with relatives to build new day care centers for children and adults.
In nearly every major federal agency, the Trump administration has pursued policies harmful to Black people. Recently, some of the more egregious instances were highlighted by Demos, a public policy organization that pushes equal say in democracy and an equal chance in the American economy for all.
In moving away from Obama administration policies, the Trump administration has put in place laws that would incarcerate nonviolent offenders and disproportionately harm African Americans.
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, meanwhile, has gone from protecting civil rights to assaulting them, according to Demos.
On voting rights, the division now supports unlawful voter purges in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.
While Trump has celebrated the historically low Black unemployment rate, he’s failed to mention that the strong decline in the Black unemployment rate began during the Obama administration in 2011, years before he took office.
Since the 1960s, the Black unemployment rate has been twice the White unemployment rate, and it continues today.
Recent research indicates virtually no progress in combatting anti-Black racial discrimination in the labor market, Demos reported.
“Black-White wage gaps are larger today than they were in 1979,” the Economic Policy Institute reported. “Wage gaps are growing primarily because of discrimination.”
Instead of working against these trends, the Trump administration is striving to make it easier for employers to discriminate against Black workers.
The administration has suspended a rule from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that would have compelled large companies to confidentially report information about what they pay their employees by job category, sex, race and ethnicity.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis that devastated African-American wealth, Congress established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to guarantee basic standards of fairness for consumer financial products and services such as mortgages, credit cards, car loans, checking accounts, debt collection, and student loans.
Since 2011, the CFPB has won nearly $12 billion for consumers cheated by the financial industry, successfully holding big banks and other financial companies accountable for predatory practices that strip wealth from Black communities.
Yet the Trump administration has worked to weaken the agency, appointing an acting director, Mick Mulvaney, who is hostile to the agency’s core mission (and is simultaneously heading another government agency) and proposing that Congress withdraw the agency’s independent funding and much of its regulatory authority, Demos reported.
Under the Trump administration, the CFPB has rolled back a range of rules that protect African-American consumers and communities from abusive and discriminatory lending.
For example, the Trump CFPB has dropped cases and halted rules that would have reined in payday lenders that prey on Black communities with interest rates exceeding 400 percent to consumers who are largely excluded from opportunities to access fair credit and accrue wealth.
Under Trump, the agency also delayed its rules on prepaid cards, preparing to weaken a regulation that would have curtailed abusive fees and interest rates and established key protections against fraud, unauthorized charges, and errors for the 2.9 million African-American consumers who rely on prepaid cards for financial transactions.
Also, the Obama administration sought to rein in colleges that loaded up students with debt without providing them any value in the labor market.
His administration also worked to provide loan forgiveness to students who were deceived into enrolling in — and borrowing thousands of dollars from — schools that eventually collapsed, including ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges.
The Trump administration is reversing these protections and making ripping off low-income students of color easier for predatory for-profit colleges.
And since Trump’s election, Demos reported, his administration has been dismantling the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate polluting industries and protect people’s health.
Environmental deregulation disproportionately harms African Americans, who are already more exposed to pollution due to a long history of racially discriminatory policies.
For example, Black Americans are 1.54 times more likely to be exposed to pollution particles associated with heart and lung disease than the overall population.
More than 1 million African Americans live within a half-mile of existing natural gas facilities and experience elevated risk of cancer due to toxic emissions from natural gas development.
For Cunningham, White and Harris, all of that are reasons that Black History Month takes on a different tone this year.
“I believe this year, African Americans should not only focus on celebrating things like our accomplishments in arts, education, and other things, but we should be diligent to focus on the future and devise a plan to end this Trump madness,” Cunningham said.
White said she’s encouraged by the 116th Congress which sat a record number of African-American women.
“When you look at Congress, and now the Democrats are the majority and many are women, we have a chance to at least be optimistic and maybe some of my personal worries about starting my business can stop or let up,” White said.
To which Harris said, “Amen.”