Joe Biden has included working toward racial equity in his
administration’s agenda. They outline how he will expand
opportunities for Black folk and other people of color. Specifically,
his Build Back Better document includes a 20-page report titled, The
Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the
American Economy. It is a
comprehensive blueprint, highlighting several potential programs.
of the initiatives require legislation. The Democratic Caucus has
shrunk while still becoming more diverse, with a split between the
progressive and moderate wings of the party. Despite differences,
though, they are likely to pass any legislation Biden proposes. The
problem? Currently, the composition of the Senate will be 50-48 with
a Republican lean. A Georgia runoff will take place on January 5,
2021 to decide to two remaining seats. If Republicans win those two
races, or even just one of them, the obstructionist Mitch McConnell
will remain in power and likely attempt to slow or block Biden’s
proposals. Biden spent thirty-six years in the Senate and has strong
relationships there. He and McConnell are reportedly friends. Those
friendships didn’t help President Obama and certainly didn’t keep
the Senate from stealing a Supreme Court seat.
other main opposition to racial equity is likely to come from
disaffected whites and those from other ethnic groups. In 1996,
California passed Proposition 209, which amended the state
constitution to prevent affirmative action in employment, education,
and contracting. Proposition 16, which appeared on this month’s
ballot in the Golden State, would repeal Prop 209. But Prop 16 lost
with 56 percent of voters rejecting affirmative action as a policy.
Affirmative action always has been controversial, with some whites
saying it gave African Americans and Latinos an unfair advantage. But
Latinos are the largest ethnic group in California. I don’t know if
they supported Prop. 16 or not, but if they didn’t, it wouldn’t
be the first time Blacks and Latinos held different positions.
whites support racial equity, but not at their expense. Too many
don’t even realize there is systemic racism in our society. Nor do
they believe that past discrimination should be rectified. Biden’s
plan for racial equity would close the unemployment rate gap between
whites and Blacks a bit, and it might narrow the wealth gap as well.
But can President-elect Biden persuade white members of the House and
Senate to support racial equity?
can accomplish some things through executive order, just as both 45
and President Obama did. But if the initiatives need government
spending, they would need to go through Congress. I think Biden
understands that he owes his electoral victory to Black folks,
especially Black women. He may develop programs that will advance
racial equity, but there are both legislative and attitudinal
the wake of President Obama’s tenure in the White House, our nation
became extremely anti-Black. Obama’s successor did everything he
could to fan the flames of anti-Blackness, and those attitudes don’t
disappear quickly. Will Biden jeopardize his reelection if he pursues
his agenda of racial equity?
Biden-Harris team must explain that whites benefit from racial
equity, and racial equity makes good economic sense. Lower rates of
Black unemployment could be economically beneficial and can even
improve our overall GDP. More support for minority businesses is also
expansionary. When Black folks win, everyone wins, but 56 percent of
California voters have shown they don’t think so.
tension is between two concepts: race-neutral public policy and
race-conscious public policy. Biden’s plan is explicitly
race-conscious. Those who opposed Prop. 16 prefer race-neutrality. Is
it possible, though, to be race-neutral in the face of unconscious
bias and anti-black attitudes? So-called race-neutral policy often
has a differential impact by race. As an example, when minimum wage
legislation was first passed in 1938, it excluded farmworkers, many
of whom were Black men, and private household workers, or domestics,
who were majority Black women. Targeting those two occupations was
legislation should be accompanied by a racial impact statement,
indicating who wins and who loses when legislation is passed. Our
government should be able to understand and explicitly legislate
around the needs of different communities; there is no other way to
ensure the rights and prosperity of Black folk, and indeed all
Americans, if we cannot. Prop 16 shows that there is still strong
resistance to this idea, just another example of racial animus in the
heart of a supposedly progressive paradise.