Why Black Americans Must Keep the Pressure on the Biden Administration

The arc of the moral universe may be long, but the time for justice is now!

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There is no doubt that President Biden and Vice President Harris are doing an outstanding job so far in their new roles as the leaders of this nation. In his short time in office, according to the Federal Register, President Biden has signed 29 executive orders at the time of this writing. These orders cover the climate crisis, the Covid crisis, the privatization of prisons, immigration, LGBTQI+ anti-discrimination, racial equity, and more.

While we know that Biden and Harris have just begun, we must keep the pressure on them to ensure that they continue to act on behalf of the people — all the people. According to exit polls, 87% of Black Americans voted for Biden, compared to only 12% for Trump. This means that a large majority of the Black community expects that President Biden and Vice President Harris have our best interests at heart and will demonstrate through their executive powers that Black lives matter to America. As Black womanist and fellow Medium writer, Allison Gaines states, “we need to make sure that Joe Biden doesn’t forget where he came from.”

We can no longer withstand what we have experienced for the last four years. Scratch that, for the last 12 years, both as a nation and as Black people, because this country began seeing an increase in America’s overtly racist behavior when President Obama stepped into office, immediately followed by an exponential increase once the white supremacist cheerleader took office. Note that the operative word here is “overtly” racist behavior, because America always has been, and always will be, racist. The only difference is the degree to which people are empowered to openly engage in racial terrorism.

Racial equity and support for underserved communities executive order

One of the 29 executive orders that President Biden has signed is entitled “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” The order affirms the reality that, “Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach.” President Biden assures all marginalized Americans that this country will “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all.”

Equity for all is what is truly needed to “save the soul of America” if America ever plans to live up to its promise that “all men are created equal.” However, we must be cautious about celebrating this executive order too soon, as it cannot simply be taken at face value. It must be scrutinized further to understand what it could or could not mean for Black people. To that end, it is the second and third paragraphs in Section 1 that are most concerning.

Advancing equity for all

In Section 1, paragraph two of President Biden’s executive order, he proclaims that,

It is therefore the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.

It is the term “people of color and others” that causes me to pause. The issue here is the grouping of Black people into the same category as every other marginalized group. While everyone who is included in this group of “people of color and others” rightfully belong because of the historical othering, disenfranchisement, and discrimination that has occurred to us all, there is a vast difference between discrimination, and hegemonic, systemically racist oppression.

History has already proven to us that it is Black people’s struggles that consistently get ignored or hijacked by others who then become the greatest beneficiaries.

True, racism against other people of color does exist, and for the Indigenous and Latinx communities, it has been especially horrific. However, the history of injustices that have plagued the Black community since this country’s inception, when we were brought here in chains with millions of our ancestors exterminated like vermin during the Triangular Trade, then forced into the system of chattel slavery for hundreds of years, followed by additional systemic oppressions that have endured for the 156 years since the end of the Civil War, has not been experienced by any other group in this country.

The unique lived experiences of Black Americans cannot, and should not, be lumped together with every other group of marginalized people. The danger in this is that many of the racially motivated and systemic injustices we face can continue to be conflated with other issues for other marginalized groups of people and subsequently disregarded because the progress made for some is deemed as being progress for us all.

History has already proven to us that it is Black people’s struggles that consistently get ignored, hijacked, or pave the way for others who then become the greatest beneficiaries. As Nikole Hannah-Jones explains in her article for the New York Times 1619 Project, “Black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.” Affirmative action is one example, as I have discussed in one of my previous articles entitled “Intersectionality Between Black and White Women’s Struggles Does Not Exist,” where I pointed out that White women are affirmative action’s greatest beneficiaries, yet they have recently become one of its fiercest adversaries.

Closing racial gaps

Paragraph three of the Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government executive order states,

An analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years. The Federal Government’s goal in advancing equity is to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential.

This section of the executive order brings up several issues. While it rightfully addresses some of the systemic injustices that will help build a better economy for the country, is this the only concern for resolving these areas of systemic racism, to boost America’s bottom line? Isn’t this why Blacks were nothing more than chattel to begin with — to produce a booming economy that we were then unable to benefit from because it was purposely designed to benefit Whiteness? How will we be able to reach our full potential while continuing to be victimized by pervasive capitalism? How can closing the racial wealth/wage gap occur without any plan for reparations? These are just a few of the concerns that need to be addressed further by the Biden administration.

Students have no hope of even getting to college if their schools continue to fail them, and continue to operate under systems of segregation, racial caste¹, and a school-to-prison pipeline.

Higher education in the Black community is another concern. Greater access to higher education is a dire need for Black people in this country. There is no question about that. However, there is an even greater need to close the equity gap (it is not an achievement gap, please learn the difference) in the K-12 educational system simultaneously. Students have no hope of even getting to college if their schools continue to fail them, and continue to operate under systems of segregation, racial caste¹, and a school-to-prison pipeline.

As Derrick Darby and John Rury explain, “History reveals that myths about black inferiority and white superiority were at the center of an educational structure that systematically and purposefully allotted inferior and unequal schooling to African Americans.”² Unfortunately, this is not simply a historical issue, it is a problem that persists to this day.

In addition to fighting for greater access to higher education, the Biden administration must revisit the Every Student Succeeds Act to determine its efficacy in providing a quality education to all students. While it may be an improvement over the No Child Left Behind Act, it is far from helping every student succeed. I have worked in some of the poorest school districts and I have seen the horrible state many of our schools are in. Poor cities receive poor funding and in turn provide students with a poor education and even poorer services. Racial equity in America’s broken K-12 education system needs to be a top priority because it is the students who pay the price. And it is these same students who will have no chance of receiving a higher education, and even less of a chance of reaching their full potential.

Policing in America

In President Biden’s call for racial equity, it must not be forgotten how many Black lives have been lost at the hands of police officers who kill us with impunity and are later protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Every one in 1,000 Black men are killed by police use of force, with the risk peaking at 20–35 years of age. Is this the age of reaching one’s full potential? As Allison Gaines says, “It’s time for Americans to turn the page on a criminal justice system that punishes Black people more than any other group.”

It is time to reform law enforcement, dismantle qualified immunity, and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. These are crucial measures that immediately need to be advocated for by the Biden administration. These issues cannot be reduced to simple rhetoric made as part of their campaign promises, there must be direct action. If the National Education Association can keep the pressure on, surely President Biden and Vice President Harris can push for change with Congress and the Supreme Court.

It is for these reasons that Black Americans must keep the pressure on the Biden administration — because our lives and livelihood continue to hang in the balance. We are tired of begging America to be righteous, and tired of listening to America’s lies about “liberty and justice for all.” The United States is far from being united, and this country cannot stand as a divided nation. Systemic racism, racial terrorism, white supremacy, and Trump supporters have not suddenly fallen away because he is no longer in office. Their operations have simply become more clandestine. We are fighting against injustices that threaten our rights, our safety, and our very lives. And it is the responsibility of this country to ensure that all its citizens are treated equally and justly, with an equal opportunity to reach our full potential. The arc of the moral universe may be long, but the time for justice is now!

¹Sonia Lowman (writer, director). Teach Us All (documentary film). The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. 2017.

²Darby, Derick and Rury, John. Color of Mind: Why the Origins of the Achievement Gap Matter for Justice. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Written by L.A. Justice. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.

To read more from L.A. Justice, visit her Medium page

Theologian | Author | Activist | Educator | Previously a Biochemist | Member of #WEOC | A Top Writer in Racism and BlackLivesMatter

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