threats.

In a subsequent radio interview of his own, the national education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, agreed with the host’s characterization of the restricted meetings as racist.

“People who claim to be progressive and who, in claiming to be progressive, distinguish people by the color of their skin are leading us to things that resemble fascism,” Mr. Blanquer said.

Mr. Blanquer has led the government’s broader pushback against what he and conservative intellectuals describe as the threat from progressive American ideas on race, gender and postcolonialism.

France’s culture wars have heated up as Mr. Macron shifts to the right to fend off a looming challenge from the far right before elections next year. His government recently announced that it would investigate universities for “Islamo-leftist” tendencies that “corrupt society.”

interview with a French newspaper.

Mr. Blanquer declined interview requests, as did Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education.

Aurore Bergé, a lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party, said that Unef’s actions lead to identity politics that, instead of uniting people in a common cause, excludes all but “those who suffer from discrimination.”

“We’re driving out the others as if they don’t have the right of expression,” said Ms. Bergé, who recently unsuccessfully submitted an amendment that would have barred Muslim minors from wearing the veil in public.

Unef’s current top leaders say that in focusing on discrimination, they are fighting for France’s ideals of liberty, equality and human rights.

They view the recent attacks as rear-guard moves by an establishment that refuses to squarely face deep-rooted discrimination in France, cannot come to terms with the growing diversity of its society, and brandishes universalism to silence new ideas and voices, out of fear.

youth employment contract in 2006. Back then, the union was more concerned with issues like tuition and access to jobs, said Mr. Julliard, the first openly gay president of the union.

Mr. Julliard said that the union’s restricted meetings and its opposition to the Aeschylus play left him uncomfortable, but that young people were now “much more sensitive, in the good sense of the word,” to all forms of discrimination.

“We have to let each generation lead its battles and respect the way it does it, though it doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion,” he said.

William Martinet, a former president, said that the focus on gender eventually led to an examination of racism. While Unef’s top leaders tended to be economically comfortable white men from France’s “grandes écoles,” or prestigious universities, many of its grass-roots activists were of working-class, immigrant and nonwhite backgrounds.

Maryam Pougetoux, now one of the union’s two vice presidents.

“I don’t think that if I’d arrived 10 years earlier, I would have been felt as welcome as in 2017,” Ms. Pougetoux said.

But the reception was far different on the outside.

Last fall, when a hijab-wearing Ms. Pougetoux appeared in the National Assembly to testify on the Covid epidemic’s impact on students, four lawmakers, including one from Mr. Macron’s party, walked out in protest.

The wearing of the Muslim veil has fueled divisions in France for more than a generation. But for Unef, the issue was now settled.

Its leaders had long considered the veil a symbol of female oppression. Now they saw it simply as a choice left to women.

“To really defend the condition of women,” said Adrien Liénard, the other vice president, “is, in fact, giving them the right to do what they want.”

Minority Entrepreneurs Struggled to Get Small-Business Relief Loans

Of the 1,300 Paycheck Protection Program loans that Southern Bancorp made last year, many went to customers who had been turned away by larger banks, Mr. Williams said.

In a recent Federal Reserve survey, nearly 80 percent of small-business owners who are Black or of Asian descent said their companies were in weak financial shape, compared with 54 percent of white business owners. And Black owners face unique challenges. While owners from all other demographics told the Fed that their main problem at the moment was low customer demand, Black respondents cited a different top challenge: access to credit.

When Jenell Ross, who runs an auto dealership in Ohio, sought a Paycheck Protection Program loan, her longtime bank told her to look elsewhere — a message that large banks like Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo delivered to many of their customers in the program’s frenzied early days.

Days later, she obtained a loan from Huntington Bank, a regional lender, but the experience stung.

“Historically, access to capital has been the leading concern of women- and minority-owned businesses to survive, and during this pandemic it has been no different,” Ms. Ross, who is Black, told a House committee last year.

Community lenders and aid organizations took a shoe-leather approach to filling the gaps.

Last year, the American Business Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group, worked with local nonprofits to create a “community navigator” program that sent outreach workers to Black, minority and rural businesses in Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and Texas. They plowed through roadblocks, Whac-a-Mole-style.

Language barriers were common. Many business owners had never sought a bank loan before. Several didn’t have an email address and needed help creating one. Some hadn’t filed taxes; the coalition hired two accountants to help people sort out their financials.

“Our folks literally went door to door and walked people through the process,” said Rebecca Shi, the group’s executive director. “It’s time-consuming.”

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Biden Seeks to Use Infrastructure Plan to Address Racial Inequities

WASHINGTON — America’s most celebrated infrastructure initiative, the interstate highway system, rammed an elevated freeway through the center of Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans in the late 1960s.

It claimed dozens of Black-owned businesses, along with oak trees and azalea bushes that had shaded Black children playing in the large neutral ground in the middle of the street, eviscerating a vibrant neighborhood whose residents fought in vain to stop the construction.

More than a half-century later, President Biden’s $2 trillion plan to rebuild aging roads, bridges, rail lines and other foundations of the economy comes with a new twist: hundreds of billions of dollars that administration officials say will help reverse long-running racial disparities in how the government builds, repairs and locates a wide range of physical infrastructure.

That includes $20 billion to “reconnect” communities of color to economic opportunity, like the Black residents still living in the interstate’s shadow along Claiborne.

unveiled on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, is the first step in a two-part agenda to remake the American economy. The president and his advisers have pitched that agenda — whose total cost could reach $4 trillion — in the grand terms of economic competitiveness and the granular language of shortened commute times.

But they have also stressed its potential to advance racial equity and bridge gaps in economic outcomes.

In addition to dedicated funding for neighborhoods split or splintered by past infrastructure projects, the proposal also includes money for the replacement of lead water pipes that have harmed Black children in cities like Flint, Mich.; the cleanup of environmental hazards that have plagued Hispanic neighborhoods and tribal communities; worker training that would target underserved groups; and funds for home health aides, who are largely women of color.

More traditional efforts to close racial opportunity gaps, like universal pre-K and more affordable higher education, are coming in the next phase of Mr. Biden’s plans. The exact mix of components is likely to change as Mr. Biden tries to push the plans through Congress.

Given the thin Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, the legislative battle is likely to be intense and highly partisan, with no assurance the White House will prevail.

corporate tax increases Mr. Biden has proposed to fund this phase of his agenda, and they have accused the president of using the popular banner of “infrastructure” to sell what they call unrelated liberal priorities — including many of the programs White House officials say will advance economic opportunity for disadvantaged people and areas.

But liberal economists say the spending on transportation, housing and other areas of Mr. Biden’s initial plan could help advance racial equity, if done correctly.

“This is a promising start,” said Trevon Logan, an economist at Ohio State University whose work includes studies of how government spending projects, like the one that built the interstate highway system, have excluded or hurt Americans who are not white.

The biggest single piece of the plan’s racial equity efforts is not a transportation or environmental project, but a $400 billion investment in in-home care for older and disabled Americans. It would lift the wages of care workers, who are predominantly low-paid, female and not white.

that was partially bulldozed to make way for Interstate 81, and the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans.

Government infrastructure spending is meant to make the economy work more efficiently. Freeways and rail lines speed goods from factories to market. Roads and transit systems carry workers from their homes to their jobs.

But for some communities of color, those projects devastated existing economies, leveling commercial corridors, cutting Black neighborhoods off from downtowns and accelerating suburbanization trends that exacerbated segregation.

“A lot of previous government investment in infrastructure purposely excluded these communities,” said Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy director of Mr. Biden’s National Economic Council. “So if you look at where we need to invest in infrastructure now, a lot of it is concentrated in these communities.”

Past projects were often built in communities that did not have the political capital or resources to successfully protest.

“When it comes time to build an interstate through a city, a pattern emerges: The areas that are displaced by that interstate will overwhelmingly be the areas occupied by African-Americans,” Dr. Logan said. Often, he added, lawmakers choose to build “in the places that have the least political power to make sure this doesn’t happen in their neighborhood.”

Eric Avila, an urban historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, said a consensus during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration on the need to invest in highways that would connect neighborhoods to cities led to the exclusion of minority communities.

The federal government also used “urban renewal” or “slum clearance” redevelopment programs that often led to the clearing of the way for giant infrastructure projects like highways.

“These highways were essentially built as conduits for wealth,” Mr. Avila said. “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.”

Mr. Avila pointed to how plans for the Inner Belt highway in Cambridge, Mass., were halted after protests by faculty members at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And in New Orleans, Mr. Avila said, plans for a highway called the Riverfront Expressway were canceled after officials faced pressure from protesters in the French Quarter. But Black protesters were not able to spare Treme, one of the nation’s oldest communities of free Black residents, from the construction of an elevated six-lane stretch of Interstate 10 along Claiborne Avenue.

Amy Stelly is reminded of that freeway each morning when the truck traffic causes her home to shudder. The emissions from the interstate a block away have turned jewelry that she placed near her window jet black.

“Anyone who lives near an urban highway knows what we’re breathing in every day,” said Ms. Stelly, an urban designer and activist against the project. “There’s a layer of silt that sticks on our properties and houses.”

It is unclear from Mr. Biden’s plan, and conversations with White House officials, what the administration envisions for Claiborne Avenue. If the funding survives in any bill Mr. Biden might sign into law, those details will matter, said Deborah Archer, a director of the Center on Race, Inequality and the Law at New York University School of Law.

“I think it’s wonderful to be able to say and have the goal that this historic investment will advance racial equity,” Ms. Archer said. “It’s another thing to distribute these funds in a way that has impact.”

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Racial Equity Being Reviewed

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department is moving ahead with a formal racial equity review of the agency and its programs, putting in place an effort to ensure that economic fairness is prioritized throughout the Biden administration as it begins to disburse $1.9 trillion in relief money.

The initiative is expected to be led by Adewale Adeyemo once he is confirmed as deputy Treasury secretary, according to people familiar with the matter. It will be undertaken in close collaboration with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who is making racial equity a centerpiece of her agenda as she oversees the disbursement of much of the stimulus package.

The review follows an executive order that President Biden signed in January requiring federal agencies to pursue racial equity and to support underserved communities in their policies and programming. The order was a sharp departure from the policies of President Donald J. Trump, who issued an executive order last year banning the “malign ideology” of racial sensitivity training across the government.

Treasury is developing its own civil rights strategy and, as part of that, is working to ensure that financial assistance distributed through the latest relief legislation is allocated fairly. The White House noted in January that previous rounds of stimulus checks were sometimes slow to arrive to people of color. And minority business owners who did not have close ties to banks often had difficulty gaining access to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

Mr. Adeyemo’s nomination. If confirmed, he would be the nation’s first Black deputy Treasury secretary. At his confirmation hearing last month, he spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic was worsening inequality in the United States.

“Until we contain the pandemic, economic policy must remain focused on providing relief to those harmed by the public health crisis, especially those disproportionately impacted: low-income communities and communities of color,” Mr. Adeyemo said.

A Treasury official said it was premature to say what Mr. Adeyemo’s role will be since he has yet to be sworn into office, but he is expected to work closely with Ms. Yellen on racial equity issues if he is confirmed.

The plan for Mr. Adeyemo to lead the initiative has been discussed in internal Treasury meetings, according to a person familiar with the matter.

All federal agencies are required to submit diversity and inclusion plans to the Office of Management and Budget this month, under the terms of the executive order.

 stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

As part of that, it plans to send a team to assess the U.S. Mint, which has faced longstanding accusations of fostering a culture of racism. The Treasury inspector general opened an investigation last year into what employees described as “rampant racism” at the agency, including a slur being written on walls of restrooms and a white employee leaving a noose in the work space of a Black colleague.

Ms. Yellen has already taken steps to create a more inclusive atmosphere at Treasury and to demonstrate her desire to promote racial equity. She announced plans this month to invest $9 billion into Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions as they look to step up lending.

In a message to staff for Black History Month in February, Ms. Yellen said that Treasury would play an important role in making sure that the pandemic was not a “generational setback” for people of color.

“Instead of this crisis doing what crises do — and driving an economic wedge further between races — we might emerge from the pandemic on track,” she wrote, “towards higher wealth and wages for everyone.”

Black Developers Need Better Access to Capital

For 15 years, Harvey Yancey has been building and renovating market-rate homes, affordable housing and commercial spaces in Washington, D.C. During that time, his company, H2DesignBuild, has navigated funding challenges and found its way into beneficial deals.

But all along, Mr. Yancey, who is Black, said he was aware of the industry’s racial homogeneity and the limitations he faced because of his skin color. “It was always the quiet conversation in the room,” he said.

Today, commercial real estate remains a field in which the vast majority of developers are white. Few reliable statistics are available, but the industry association NAIOP reported in a 2013 survey, the most recent year available, that 4.4 percent of commercial real estate professionals were Black. This year, just 5 percent of Urban Land Institute’s members described themselves as Black or African-American.

The disparity has many sources, including many African-Americans’ unfamiliarity with the field and subsequent dearth of connections. But the biggest challenge, Black developers say, is gaining access to capital, including loans, loan guarantees and equity. That may be the result of limited balance sheets, short track records or a lack of wealthy and influential networks. As a result, their firms struggle to grow and remain on the margins as cities around the country see their downtowns reshaped by other, deep-pocketed developers.

overwhelmingly white, though its leaders are pledging to change.

Banking giants like Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, as well as smaller institutions, have announced initiatives totaling billions of dollars that are largely focusing on communities and entrepreneurs of color. Some of the funding is earmarked for affordable housing and commercial development in low-income communities, which will benefit all real estate developers.

Longtime practitioners and analysts in the field say that if new dollars are to redress the industry’s racial imbalance, the funds need to be carefully designed so that more of the money winds up in the hands of Black developers.

In October, JPMorgan Chase announced a $30 billion initiative to advance racial equity that included substantial commitments for minority-led small businesses and Black and Latino households. The announcement also listed $14 billion in new loans and investments over the next five years to expand affordable rental housing in low-income communities.

announced $200 million of equity and financing for affordable housing projects by minority developers.

net worth of a typical Black family in America was one-tenth that of a white family, according to a study by the Brookings Institution. Black developers say that coming up with several million dollars in “friends and family” equity is often impossible because their networks don’t have that kind of money.

“Equity capital is not readily available,” said Craig Livingston, a managing partner at Exact Capital and the chairman of the New York Real Estate Chamber. He and his colleagues may have incredible track records, he said, “but when competing with second- or third-generation developers, we don’t have the same financial footing or access to risk capital.”

A few initiatives have emerged that focus on this problem. In June, for instance, Morgan Stanley and the Ford Foundation started a $26 million fund that provides equity to emerging minority- and women-owned companies. The fund — which is the result of almost a decade of strategizing about how to best help developers of color — will be managed by TruFund Financial Services, a Community Development Financial Institution.

And Blue Vista, an investment management firm in Chicago, is creating a $100 million private equity fund for minority and women-owned real estate businesses. Moved by the racial justice protests this summer, Robert G. Byron, a co-founder of the firm, examined the company’s history and found that the deals in which the company had provided capital to novice companies led by people of color and women had worked out well.

Blue Vista structured its new fund in response, with a plan to provide seed capital and mentoring to a handful of talented newer developers. Within a few years, recipients are more likely to be ready to seek capital from more established sources.

Blue Vista’s program is similar to one that Don Peebles, a successful Black developer in New York, announced in 2019. Mr. Peebles is aiming to gather $450 million in investments for undercapitalized developers in several key markets. But among private equity firms, Mr. Byron says, there doesn’t seem to be any real competition to find and invest in these developers.

“Just by scratching the surface, without marketing, we’ve found really capable people — smart, talented, experienced,” Mr. Byron said. And investors are excited, too.

“What I hear from both investors and potential users is, ‘This is exactly what we’ve been clamoring for,’” he said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”