(WSAHINGTON) — As Black History Month draws to a close, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday evening marked the celebration by delivering remarks at a reception in the White House’s East Room.
The pair touted what they called the accomplishments their administration has made for the Black community in areas like government, housing and climate while implicitly rebuking some Republican efforts to revise African American history courses.
“History matters and Black history matters,” Biden said to an audience of Black Congressional leaders, students at historically Black colleges and universities and other guests.
“Look, I can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. We learn when we should know to learn everything: the good, the bad, the truth and who we are as a nation,” he said.
Harris echoed that.
“Let us all be clear. We will not as a nation build a better future for America by trying to erase America’s past,” she said to a round of applause.
“This month, and all year round, we must recognize the full arc of our nation’s history,” she said, adding, “So during Black History Month, we celebrate the heroes of the past as well as those who currently carry the baton.”
Black history — particularly how it’s taught and which perspectives are included — has become the center of debate in schools across the country as some members of the GOP have aimed to decry teachings of “critical race theory,” an academic concept about systemic racism typically taught in higher education institutions.
“We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. recently tweeted about curriculum in his state, which was challenged by the state and revised.
Biden — whose 2020 presidential campaign was revived by his decisive win in South Carolina, home to many Black voters — began his remarks on Monday by thanking close ally Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., along with Black members of his administration.
“I wouldn’t be standing here without Jim,” Biden said.
He boasted of his administration’s diversity, of his selection of the first female Black vice president and female Black Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and of appointing more Black women to federal circuit courts than “than every other president in history combined.”
At one point, Biden began talking about his ties to the “Divine Nine” — the National Pan-Hellenic Council formed of African American sororities and fraternities — throughout his life in politics.
“I may be white boy, but I’m not stupid,” he said to a round of laughter.
“I know where the power is … I learned a long time ago about the ‘Divine Nine.’ That’s why I spent so much time in Delaware State campaigns and organizing my campaign in Delaware,” he said, nodding to his time organizing at Delaware State University, a historically Black institution.
Biden also highlighted some of his work as president and how it touched or would touch Black communities, including lowering unemployment levels for Black Americans, the environmental provisions passed as part of the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act and last year’s infrastructure investment legislation, a $6 billion increase in funding for existing grants that help historically Black schools and other efforts.
“I committed by 2025, we’re going to increase to 15% of every single contract I award as president will go to Black and brown small businesses,” he said.
ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.
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