Biden Seeks to Define His Presidency by an Early Emphasis on EquityHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Joe Biden, racial equity
In his first days in office, President Biden has devoted more attention to issues of racial equity than any new president since Lyndon B. Johnson, a focus that has cheered civil rights activists and drawn early criticism from conservatives.
In his inauguration speech, the president pledged to defeat “white supremacy,” using a burst of executive orders on Day 1 to declare that “advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government.”
He has ordered his coronavirus response team to ensure that vaccines are distributed equitably. His $1.9 trillion recovery plan targets underserved communities by calling for paid leave for women forced out of jobs, unemployment benefits that largely help Black and brown workers, and expanded tax credits for impoverished Americans who are disproportionately nonwhite.
And the new administration is preparing to take sweeping steps in the months ahead to directly address inequity in housing, criminal justice, voting rights, health care, education and economic mobility.
“Racial equity is not a silo in and of itself,” said Cecilia Rouse, Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead his Council of Economic Advisers, who would be the first Black economist to oversee the council if confirmed by the Senate. “It is woven in all of these policy efforts.”
The actions reflect the political coalition backing Mr. Biden, who was lifted by Black voters to his party’s nomination and who won the White House in part on the strength of Black turnout and support from women in the suburbs and elsewhere. They also reflect what historians see as a unique opening for Mr. Biden to directly address issues of inequality — in contrast to President Barack Obama, under whom Mr. Biden served as vice president.
Mr. Obama, the nation’s first Black president, took pains to be seen as a president for “all Americans,” as opposed to Black Americans, said Nicole Hemmer, a Columbia University historian and associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History project.
“You got less of that overt racial equity language from Barack Obama than you get from Joe Biden,” Ms. Hemmer said. “The challenge to Biden is how he makes clear the universal benefits of focusing on racial and gender equity. He is going to face real pushback on this.”
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