Opinion

Biden is failing Black Americans. Here's what he could do better.

The president said he had our backs. He has a funny way of showing it.

President Biden recently said the nation is "headed in the right direction" with its pandemic response but stressed it was "essential" that the 66 million Americans who remain unvaccinated get their COVID-19 shots.

"Now's not the time to let up," Biden added. "We have a lot more to do."

I wish Biden had the same urgency about his presidency in general, which is too early to doom completely but appears in trouble nonetheless. Specifically, he must confront the earned perception that he is taking a lot of his most ardent supporters for granted. 

Biden's average approval rating has plunged since late June — and the dip spans the political spectrum. More concerning is Biden showing signs of weakness among key Democratic constituencies: Blacks, Latinos, women, and young people. Pew Research Center polls released late last month revealed Biden's approval rating among Black Americans fell from 85 percent in July to 67 percent in September, while also falling 16 points among Hispanics and 14 points among Asians.

Plenty of this can be rightly attributed to a pandemic that is still not under control and the consequences of that — such as a battered supply chain and the inflation that comes along with it. To the credit of Biden, he is trying to alleviate some of those supply chain problems, but experts say much of it is ultimately out of his hands, at least as far as Christmas is concerned. He'd be smart to turn his focus to things he can fix, things could make meaningful change for many of his most valuable constituents, and Black Americans specifically. 

As a candidate, Biden named systemic racism as one of the major crises facing the nation, and in doing so, assured Black voters he would be forceful in making things more equal in America for Black people. 

"You've always had my back, and I'll have yours," Biden promised.

His campaign's plan for Black America, titled "Lift Every Voice," an audacious nod to the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" penned by James Weldon Johnson, says, "Joe Biden knows that African Americans can never have a fair shot at the American Dream so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity." Two weeks into his administration, while signing four executive orders relating to the issue, Biden declared: "We need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government; it has to be the business of the whole of government."

His administration has a lot on its plate, but promises are promises. And so far, he isn't keeping them.

Indeed, it was not lost on some of us that Biden pleaded with more Americans to be vaccinated on what should have been George Floyd's 48th birthday. But the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — which would have ushered in police reform — died after a bipartisan group was unable to find a compromise

While it's true that Biden publicly pushed to have this legislation passed before the anniversary of Floyd's death, and Republicans are the ones who rejected plans proposed by Democrats, I was still put off by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki's flippant response to a question on its failure. "The Black agenda is bigger than voting rights and bigger than the George Floyd Police and Justice Act," she said in a press briefing. Sure, but there are plenty of other issues where the administration is failing Black and brown Americans, too.

Congress has failed to pass a voting rights law despite the ongoing, state-by-state assault on our electoral process. Outside of a July speech on voting, Biden hasn't used his platform to drill into the American conscience that voting rights are under attack. And Biden refuses to push the Democratic-controlled Senate to amend if not flat out kill the filibuster over voting rights. When pressed on this, Pskai's response was essentially to shift blame from Biden to Congress. "You need 50 votes to change the filibuster," she reminded reporters. "You also need the majority of votes to pass legislation into law." True, but Biden has demonstrated with his push for vaccines that he has no issue using his power as president to influence the public. Why not use it to pressure Congress to kill the filibuster and get something meaningful done?

And I imagine millions of Black Americans — along with any decent, non-bigoted voter — might actually be moved by a Justice Department prosecuting former President Donald Trump and his administration for their long list of sins committed during those terrible four years.

Or perhaps Biden can fight more for funding for historically Black colleges and universities and change the minds of folks like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about debt cancellation — two moves that could easily make real tangible change for Black Americans. And he could work to save the Post Office, home of plenty of Black middle class workers. Instead his administration abandoned the push for a $15 minimum wage back in March, a policy that, if enacted, would have significantly helped many of America's minorities.

While Biden has admitted that his reconciliation bill will likely be smaller than the $3.5 trillion as designed, where he decides to allow cuts will speak to his commitment to Black voters. "This would be the biggest racial justice bill in generations," Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz told Politico. But that's only if initiatives like funding for Black colleges, pay bumps for home care workers, and red-state Medicaid expansion survive the negotiation process.  

Racial equity can only be reached by giving Black people real equity. If Biden really has Black Americans' backs, he has a funny way of showing it. 

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