Now that President Biden and Vice President Harris have been sworn in, it’s time to discuss priorities.
While the main focus at the moment is lessening the damage of COVID-19 in America, I’d say that there are other issues that are quite pressing as well. Most namely: institutional anti-Blackness.
As many of us know, President Biden has a less than favorable history with racial justice in the United States. For example, President Biden has faced backlash for his support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is more commonly known as the 1994 Crime Bill. Although perhaps not intended, this bill exacerbated the issue of mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts the Black community. Biden has since acknowledged the damage caused by this bill.
Additionally, President Biden has faced controversy due to his stance on busing. While many people, both Black and white, opposed federally mandated busing, the policy continued to exist as a measure to desegregate schools. Despite studies showing that busing positively impacted Black students, President Biden maintained his anti-federally mandated busing stance during a Democratic Party presidential debate, but he clarified that his opposition was not against busing itself but rather against federal government involvement in busing.
As for Vice President Harris, there are some issues there as well. Although she has made history as the first Black and Indian woman to serve as vice president, her past actions contributed to institutional anti-Blackness as well.
A common critique of Vice President Harris is that she was tough on Black people rather than tough on crime itself. In the following Twitter thread, Bay Area activist Blake Simmons describes the many harmful actions that Vice President Harris committed against Black people in her past.
Worse yet, when confronted by former Representative Tulsi Gabbard, then Senator Harris deflected from her wrongdoings to the good that she did as a prosecutor.
To put it simply, as we’ve realized with other Black figures in high places: All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.
However, Vice President Harris did become more progressive during her time in the Senate. For example, she introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act along with Representative Jerrold Nadler in 2019. The goal of this bill is to right the wrongs done to those imprisoned for marijuana possession – who are disproportionately BIPOC and low-income people – due to federal criminalization of marijuana.
To give President Biden and Vice President Harris the benefit of the doubt, their previously problematic policies and stances were – and still are, in certain cases – widely accepted in government and society at large. Politicians should be given the same space to grow as citizens are (that is not to say that they shouldn’t be held accountable for the harm caused), or there would be little to no progress at any point in history.
And now is a great time for them to be on the right side of history.
Given the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police nationwide, I believe a wise first move would be to take steps to address the racial injustice within the criminal justice system.
So far, the Biden-Administration has addressed these concerns. In fact, the administration put together a comprehensive plan to address the same issues that they perpetuated within the criminal justice system. However, plans and promises are not enough at this point – we need to see action.
In the plan, President Biden called for the immediate passage of the SAFE Justice Act. While this bill is a step in the right direction due to calls for investment in social services, I do not feel that it addresses the overfunding of the police and over-policing adequately; therefore, I urge President Biden to consider the Breathe Act.
On a national level, the Breathe Act calls for investment in social services as well as divestment from police forces. The end goal of the Breathe Act is a system that ensures public safety without reliance on carcerality.
President Biden has made it abundantly clear that he does not support defunding the police, which is not an uncommon stance in America; however, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Given the deeply racist roots of policing in America, I encourage President Biden, and others who share his mindset, to explore alternatives to our current policing system in the fight to eradicate institutional racism.
Secondly, the Biden-Harris Administration needs to prioritize the fight against Black voter suppression and gerrymandering. After all, Black voters throughout the country delivered President Biden his victory, and Black Georgians gave President Biden a Democratic Senate as well. It would be not only morally correct but also politically wise to protect voting rights for Black Americans.
From attempting to meddle with 2020 Census results to having a Department of Justice that did little to protect voter rights, Former President Trump’s Administration has shown that it is easy to tamper with voter protections. Therefore, President Biden’s Department of Justice must approach the issue of voter suppression with new vigor so that we do not run into the same issues again in 2024 – or beyond.
Additionally, President Biden should issue an executive order to mandate that anyone who comes in contact with a government agency is automatically registered to vote once they are eligible. This executive order could serve as an expansion to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which allows eligible voters, if they elect to do so, to register to vote once they come in contact with a government agency, such as the Department/Registry of Motor Vehicles. Such action would likely increase voter registration in all groups.
Lastly, I would like for President Biden to revisit his loan forgiveness stance. President Biden supported forgiving, at minimum, $10,000 of federal student loan debt. While this stance is a start, many, from Democratic officials to organizations, are calling for the minimum amount to be increased to $50,000 or to cancel all student loan debt via executive order.
While canceling student loan debt would benefit many Americans, it would have a profound positive impact on the Black community as well. A Brookings Institution report in 2016 concluded that, on average, Black college graduates owe $7,400 more in student loan debt than their white counterparts upon graduation. After a few years, the gap expands to $25,000.
A report by The Century Foundation explores the impact of this gap on Black college graduates. They found that this debt gap worsens the already prevalent income inequality gap in the United States. Furthermore, Black college graduates are more likely to have issues with paying their debt off due to a variety of issues, such as racial discrimination in the job market.
Unsurprisingly, in a poll conducted by Vox and Data for Progress, 71% of Black participants supported loan forgiveness up to $50,000 for people making $125,000 yearly while only 43% of white participants supported the policy. While I can acknowledge that student loan debt forgiveness does not necessarily handle the larger problems contributing to it, I believe that President Biden should reevaluate his stance on student loan forgiveness so that he can help the voters that helped him win with a Democratic House and Senate.
To be clear, I understand that President Biden and Vice President Harris are inheriting a lot of problems that need to be addressed and only have four years guaranteed to work on them, but I would sincerely like to have a president that finally fights for Black people.
In his victory speech, President Biden told his Black voters, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” Now let’s see if he upholds that promise.
Featured image by Andrew Harnik, Associated Press.