In a year when the U.S. saw the largest protest movement in history in support of Black lives, when people of color have experienced disproportionate outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic, and when Black voters showed up in droves to flip two Senate seats in Georgia, Joe Biden entered the White House with a mandate to address the issue of racial equity in a meaningful way.
Not that it took any of those things to make racial issues in America real. White supremacy has undergirded laws, policies, and practices throughout our nation’s history, and the ongoing impacts of that history are seen and felt widely by various racial and ethnic groups in America in various ways.
Today, President Biden spoke to these issues in straightforward language before signing four executive actions that aim to:
– promote fair housing policies to redress historical racial discrimination in federal housing and lending
– address criminal justice, starting by ending federal contracts with for-profit prisons
– strengthen nation-to-nation relationships with Native American tribes and Alaskan natives
– combat xenophobia against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, which has skyrocketed during the pandemic
“In my campaign for president, I made it very clear that the moment had arrived as a nation, as we face deep racial inequities in America and systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long. I said that over the course of the past year that the blinders had been taken off the nation, the American people. What many Americans didn’t see or had simply refused to see couldn’t be ignored any longer.”
Biden spoke of how George Floyd’s killing opened the eyes of the nation and the world and marked “a turning point in this country’s attitude toward racial justice.” He spoke of the impact of the pandemic on Black and Latino communities and the economic inequalities that plague the nation. He spoke of the white supremacists who invaded our Capitol.
“We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have the right to be treated equally throughout their lives,” he said. “And it’s time to act now, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because if we do, we’ll all be better off for it.”
President Biden is making the case that equity and rooting out systemic racism helps all Americans. It is a telling… https://t.co/wjEGbdM8hT
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche Alcindor)1611688613.0
“For too long we’ve allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester,” he went on. “You know, we’ve bought the view that America is a zero-sum game in many cases. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get the job I lose mine. Maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up. We’ve lost sight of what President Kennedy told us what he said, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ When we lift each other up, we’re all lifted up. And the corollary is true as well. When anyone is held down, we’re all held back.”
This afternoon, I’ll be taking action to advance racial equity for Americans who have been underserved and left beh… https://t.co/BaUNGChIlS
— President Biden (@President Biden)1611687989.0
President Biden gave some details about what the four executive actions signed today will mean, including giving Native tribes and nations access to the federal stockpile and FEMA, as well as taking a step toward stopping corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is “less humane and less safe, as the studies show.”
He also elucidated on further actions he wants to take, or see taken in the case of legislation in Congress, during his administration, starting with undoing some of Trump’s last actions as president:
“In the weeks ahead, I’ll be reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to diversity equity and inclusion and accessibility, building on the work we started and the Obama-Biden administration. That’s why I’m rescinding the previous administration’s harmful man on diversity and sensitivity training. And abolish the offensive counterfactual 1776 commission. Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth. Not ignorance and lies.”
And including making it easier for all Americans to vote:
“Here’s another thing we need to do—we need to restore and expand the Voting Rights Act, named after our dear friend, John Lewis. And continue to fight back against laws many states are engaged in to suppress the right to vote, while expanding access to the ballot box for all eligible voters.:
Biden concluded with by repeating the call for racial equity to be incorporated throughout every part of the government:
“Here’s the deal, and I’ll close with this,” he said. “I ran for president because I believe we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. And the simple truth is our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist. It’s not going to be overnight. We can’t eliminate everything. But it’s corrosive, it’s destructive, and it’s costly. It costs every American, not just who felt the sting of racial injustice. We are not just a nation morally deprived because of systemic racism. We’re also less prosperous, we’re less successful, less secure. So we must change, and I know it’s gonna take time. But I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well. We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day. Today, tomorrow, and every day.
I’m gonna sign these executive actions to continue to work to make real the promise of America for every American. Again, I’m not promising we can end it tomorrow. But I promise you we’re gonna continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism in every branch of the White House, and the federal government is going to be part of that effort.”
People in racial justice advocacy spaces seemed to receive President Biden’s address and executive actions with cautious optimism. NAACP president Derrick Johnson told MSNBC, “This is a great initial start,” and “The fact he’s embedding this inside of Domestic Policy Council shows the urgency and the gravity of what’s taking place.”
Some pointed out that unless and until there are actual changes coming from the legislative branch, the actions taken by Biden today are tenuous, since they can be changed at the stroke of a pen with a new administration. However, these executive actions and the promises made by Biden do seem to indicate that he is serious about making racial justice a key policy driver during his tenure in the White House.
It’s definitely a start, and considering we’re only seven days in, a promising sign that more meaningful action is on the way.