Statement of Chair Burrows For Black History Month

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Washington, D.C. Headquarters 

Statement of Chair Charlotte A. Burrows

Black History Month – February 2021

This year’s Black History Month theme – The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity[1] – reminds us of the pivotal role Black families play in shaping a positive representation and identity for each succeeding generation.  That role helped make it possible to meet and overcome the numerous challenges Black families have faced over the history of this country.

This is already a difficult year for Black families.  COVID-19’s social, health, and economic effects have hit African Americans particularly hard.  Black men and women are disproportionately represented on the front lines of the pandemic, as health care workers and caregivers, grocery store clerks and public transit workers, warehouse employees and delivery drivers. Black workers are also among those hardest hit by job losses, with Black women facing the largest impact.  The educational effects of remote learning are increasingly worrisome for African American children.  And Black patients are nearly three times as likely as white patients to die of the coronavirus.

At the same time, the tragic killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African American mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters remain a painful reminder of systemic racism. Systemic bias and discrimination are an issue not only in policing and criminal justice, but in many areas, including employment and economic opportunity, with implications for our own work with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In the words of the inimitable James Baldwin, “the past is what makes the present coherent.”  Despite the difficulty of this moment, the past teaches us that the strength, creativity, resilience, and faith that has sustained Black families through slavery, Jim Crow, and all its modern-day successors, can sustain us now.  But that requires all Americans to examine our history honestly and seek to understand the ways in which the longstanding denial of health care and economic opportunity to Black Americans have helped make the current pandemic a civil rights crisis.  The eminent African American historian John Hope Franklin once said that “[g]ood history is a good foundation for a better present and future.”  Examining, honestly, the historical roots of the current challenges also allows us to create that better present and future.

The EEOC has a critical role to play in confronting these urgent issues.  The agency was created by the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 in direct response to calls for racial justice at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  That history and the agency’s mission to prevent and remedy employment discrimination have made it a leader in protecting African Americans’ right to equal employment opportunity.

Last summer, the Commission unanimously adopted a resolution condemning “the violence that has claimed the lives of so many Black persons in America” and committing the agency “to redouble our efforts to address institutionalized racism, advance justice, and foster equality of opportunity in the workplace.”  I am honored to lead the agency as we work to make good on that commitment.

[1] The theme was selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, an organization created in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson,