Race and Economy

Biden orders push agencies to reckon with their roles in systemic racism

Kimberly Adams Jan 27, 2021
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Vice President Kamala Harris looks on as President Joe Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images
Race and Economy

Biden orders push agencies to reckon with their roles in systemic racism

Kimberly Adams Jan 27, 2021
Heard on:
Vice President Kamala Harris looks on as President Joe Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images
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There is a theme running through many of the economic actions we’ve seen so far from the Biden-Harris administration: racial justice and economic equity.

It’s in Wednesday’s executive orders addressing climate change and in Tuesday’s memorandums and executive orders targeting specific issues, including incarceration and xenophobia.

That theme is an acknowledgement that racism and the economic inequality it engenders are systemic problems — and an attempt to harness the power of the federal government to fix it.

President Joe Biden has asked all the executive agencies to do some introspection to see if what the federal government is doing is reducing economic inequality or perpetuating it.

“We have a number of laws that … have intentionally or unintentionally excluded entire communities,” said Jessica Fulton, vice president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “And a lot of those policies are still on the books, our agencies are still enforcing them. And we have not yet done the work to identify those policies and rectify them.”

That will take some honesty about the role active racism has historically played in policy development.

One example of that is the New Deal, which created the white middle class in America,” said Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of the advocacy group Prosperity Now.

He said for many of the programs in the initiative, “at the time that the New Deal was created, if you were African American, you couldn’t participate.”

According to Jesse Van Tol, who runs the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the Biden administration is placing special emphasis on reviewing housing policy through a racial equity lens.

“They’re the legacy of, yes, the compounded effects of individual acts of racism, but are more systemic in their nature, and in their cure,” he said.

Van Tol said executive actions are a first step in addressing the legacy but pointed out meaningful change will need to include Congress, along with everyone else.

“Yesterday’s executive orders were largely an instruction to the president’s own team to start to take steps to address systemic racism,” Van Tol said. “But ultimately, systemic racism does have to be confronted both systemically at the federal government level. But also, you know, at the state and local level, it has to be confronted as part of a conversation about race in America.”

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