Meaningful dialogue on racial inequality in the United States must acknowledge the ways America’s white supremacist roots pervade housing, eduction, and economic opportunity. It is an incredibly complex subject that can not fully be encompassed in a single opinion article. However, as it is critical to both presidential campaigns, it should at the very least be discussed.
The current president has insisted time and again that he is “the least racist person anybody is going to meet.” It is an unbelievably hyperbolic statement on its own, but when juxtaposed with his blatantly racist speeches and policies, it feels almost insulting. While Biden has outlined his plans for addressing racial inequality, Trump has done no such thing. This is likely because he has often cast doubt on the presence of systemic racism in the United States, and has been vocal about his opposition towards critical race theory (CRT).
The 1619 Project, created in 2019 by the New York Times, represents one instance of the CRT approach to education in recent times. The Project was created in an effort to bring racism and the enduring ramifications of slavery to the forefront American history education. The Times’s work was naturally condemned by Trump over its implication that the United States was founded on the back of a racist labor regime, which he considered to be “toxic propaganda…that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together[.]”
While Trump does not have a broad plan for addressing the fulminant racial justice movement in the United States, he has proposed a policy which seeks to help smaller businesses and medical centers in minority communities. The President has also touted historically low unemployment rates among African Americans prior to the pandemic. This is indeed a continued positive trend established by the previous administration.
But this should not be taken on its own, as the pandemic has clearly shown how unprepared the country is in many ways. To say that minorities in the United States were better off just before the pandemic – without acknowledging their disproportionate suffering as a result of it – is dangerously disingenuous.
Trump and many of his allies insist that, because slavery was ended and the Civil Rights Movement established legal and political equality for non-white citizens, structural racism has effectively been dismantled, and whatever is there can simply the product of a few disgruntled individuals. But minorities in America consistently face greater work discrimination, remain more likely to be unemployed and on average earn less money than their white counterparts.
This is by no means a problem brought upon by the current administration. But in continuing to fervently deny its existence, Trump has made it more difficult to remedy these glaring issues, and will likely continue to do so should he be reelected. In not bothering to address racist tendencies among the police and vilifying protesters who march against epidemic police brutality, he has consistently cast doubt on the existence of critical social dynamic in the United States.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has, on the other hand, laid out a detailed and wide-ranging plan in an attempt to provide greater equality among all racial demographics. Part of this agenda is called “Build Back Better,” which seeks not merely to address economic disparity among races, but also combat the adverse effects of the pandemic on minorities. He further has expressed in the plan a desire to invest in affordable housing and, like Trump, smaller businesses.
Biden has also proposed efforts to provide a higher education for minority communities. As NPR wrote, “The plan also focuses on providing relief from student debt and would make public colleges and universities — and private historically Black schools — tuition-free for families with incomes under $125,000.” Such an initiative would serve to benefit a large constituency of minorities with serious material concerns in the United States.
In response to the national protests against police brutality, the Vice President did not call for defunding the police, instead advocating for increased funding to community policing. He claims this will more comfortably allow the police to focus on protecting their communities. Biden has repeatedly stated that federal funding will be provided for police institutions so long as they meet “certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.” It is a positive sentiment, but one wonders if it is nearly enough to tackle such a prominent issue. Biden has also argued that the current administration has not implemented legislation he passed during his tenure as a senator such as pattern-or-practice investigations.
Given the Vice President’s lengthy history in government that he often refers back to, it is worth taking a look at his past record. In doing so, we simply can’t ignore the mistakes he has made as senator, such as his comments on busing. He discouraged the efforts for desegregation that would bring minority students into majority white schools and vice versa in certain cities by bus. The policy was praised at the time, but it was also criticized by people including Biden, who viewed it as inimical to further progress on racial justice.
Biden’s most worrying sentiments are from half a century ago, and it is undeniable that sentiments change and perspectives can shift. But if Biden wishes to become the next president with a minimum of effort, we can not ignore his past mistakes. We need to hold him accountable for his policies — such as a 1994 Crime Bill — which offered states funding to build more prisons while incarcerating a disproportionate number of black people. His new plans do attempt to provide funding for alternatives to prisons, but that does not remove such a blemish on his record.
Even if Biden’s attitudes are more compassionate than Trump’s, should he become the next president, we must work to ensure that Biden keeps his word on his proposed policies. But if Trump emerges as the victor, it is difficult to say what can be done. He has proven himself an inconsiderate leader with little regard for large portions of the population. His policies have appeared superficially beneficial, but upon further inspection they only further clarify his position as a president and are rather far from being “the least racist person anybody is going to meet.”