The Danger of Getting Too Comfy With Biden
If there’s going to be any societal shift after the brutal murder of George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin, it certainly should be that large segments of America will finally acknowledge the seriousness and gravity of racism.
Former President Barack Obama said it best following Floyd’s death:
In some ways, as tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends.
The past year’s mass protests were some of the largest in American history and certainly the broadest protests ever on systemic racism. Astoundingly, many White Americans acknowledged and supported Black Lives Matter. According to the Pew Research Center, some 25% more Whites recognized the severity of race issues than before. There’s also much more agreement, from Whites, that racism is widespread and that the United States didn’t make as much progress as many people here once naively thought. More than 50% of Americans now support the Black Lives Matter movement.
This overdue recognition of the need to fight racism and undo systems that perpetuate it is a welcome rejection of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that dismantled the Voting Rights Act. In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “things have changed dramatically” when it comes to racism and discrimination. And yet it really didn’t.
More recently, when Donald Trump became president, it became clear that he easily motivated those who perpetuate and those who fight racism. His history here shows a path from the 1970s to now. But in the end, Trump enabled the loud voices of White supremacists. Just ask the likes of David Duke, who proudly supported Donald Trump without reprisal. Or Trump’s appointment of Darren Beattie as a speechwriter. And, of course, there’s Steve Bannon, whose appointment was widely celebrated by White supremacist groups who support his alt-right publication.
These and numerous other offensive comments and actions all provided additional fire under our collective social justice asses to stand up and fight.
Enter President Joe Biden.
With Biden, things are calmer in 2021. The daily insulting tweets from the former president and the incessant, in-your-face nastiness are mostly gone from the Oval Office. Biden has appointed government officials and judges far more representative of America’s rainbow of citizens. He’s rescinded many of Trump’s inhumane executive orders, such as the ban on trans people serving in the military. And Biden has rescinded Trump’s race-related executive orders, such as Trump’s ban on diversity training on systemic racism.
Still, in his first few months in office, Biden’s priority hasn’t been to immediately start addressing issues in racial equity and justice or income disparities. It’s been to approve new military sales to Jordan and Chile for $200 million, to work on climate issues, and to keep health experts and scientists in the mix for our coronavirus efforts.
Biden hasn’t made it his immediate priority to alleviate student debt that has handcuffed millions of Black Americans, as well as White Americans, despite promises to the contrary.
Biden has proposed a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill but has yet to offer any solutions for fixing urban schools. Or focus on curriculum improvement. Or provide opportunities to the most challenged communities in places like Chicago, Baltimore, and Oakland. Or police reform.
What our country needs right now is a sharp focus on our own centuries-long human rights violations. On radical changes that impact race, including in education, income disparity, and health care. On undoing centuries of abuse.
I’m not suggesting that America need not repair its bridges or relationships with our allies worldwide or that we should ignore the human rights violations of other countries. But if we’re going to do things differently this time around, we also can’t continue to use these other issues as a delay or distraction for addressing what has ailed America for too long when it comes to race.
So, Biden, here are a few suggestions to get started if you have any desire to stop maintaining the racist status quo your party contributed to.
First, education. We spent trillions in Iraq for no reason. Imagine if we had invested in our public school systems instead. A complete overhaul. $100,000 a year pay for K–12 teachers. Free college for aspiring teachers. Expanded, free pre-K and early childhood education. Smaller classrooms. Enough social workers in every school. New, state-of-the-art schools. Financial literacy training for high schoolers. Expanded vocational training. Curriculum changes that tell the truth. These just to start. (Oh, and for you self-professed economic conservatives, now is the time to think more like an investor. The amount we will save on having fewer police and prisons, fewer health problems, and a more robust workforce long-term will far exceed the costs of this overhaul. It’s going to be like buying Amazon stock at $17 a share in 1997. It closed at $3,161 a share on April 1, 2021.)
Second, criminal justice reform. Our criminal justice system stacks the deck against people of color—in particular, Black men. It is time to release all nonviolent drug offenders into various programs that provide opportunities instead of caging people. Add in community policing, social worker involvement for nonviolent conflict, and a mass overhaul in training and hiring police officers. Also, change the rules toward police ambivalence to problems in their ranks. These are just a start. The savings in prison and criminal justice costs will outweigh the costs of these expensive programs.
Third, diversity in business reform. Provide a recruitment and diversity template for businesses. Then require companies with over 50 employees to report their diversity statistics among employees, management, and boards of directors. Include promotion statistics. Provide tax incentives when companies achieve certain goals. Provide additional incentives and funds for businesses to implement unconscious bias and antiracist training. What people typically fail to understand is that long-term, having more voices with different experiences and ideas at the table not only benefits the participants but the companies as well. A program like this will not only help create more wealth in communities of color but will also engage people of different backgrounds to create a more integrated society. Our current programs don’t go far enough.
These “let’s get started” programs and overhauls are not the solutions to every race-related issue. But it doesn’t make much sense to fix roads and arm Chile ahead of beginning to fix our own flawed racist systems.
Some of these things won’t be easy to convince the mostly White Congress (still over 75% White), but Biden was elected because a large chunk of America is tired of having one party that doesn’t seem to care and the other that might care but keeps trying the same stale, half-baked Band-Aid solutions.
Our race problems are too big, so it’s time to cut the president’s honeymoon phase short. It’s time to hold the feet of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to the fire on policy changes impacting race, or all we’ve really done with our vote is remove some insulting tweets.