Joe Biden is one of the first presidents in U.S. history to immediately take on an aggressive racial equity agenda, a plan he says will guide his administration.
“I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well,” Biden said this week. “We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day — today, tomorrow, and every day.”
On Tuesday, he signed four new executive orders, including measures to strengthen the Fair Housing Act and stop the Department of Justice from using privately owned detention centers.
By setting an agenda, the president is also defining racial equity — the pillars outlined are equal opportunity, criminal justice reform, access to housing, and political and cultural inclusion.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson praises Biden’s actions as a “great start” that are unlike any president before him. Johnson says he and the NAACP will be encouraging the new administration to expand upon those pillars to include economic opportunity and job security, among others.
Just a week after his inaugural speech where he promised to address equity, the president has already begun to establish a path forward “so that we can talk about what America should look like moving into 2030 as opposed to continuing to fight the fights of the past from 1930 and 1950,” Johnson says.
Both Biden and Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council, have both emphasized the importance of economic equity in a democracy.
“The evidence is clear: Investing in equity is good for economic growth, and it creates jobs for all Americans,” Rice recently explained at a White House press briefing.
Johnson says he would like to see the administration clearly define an economic pillar in their racial justice reform plans — one that specifically encompasses economic advancements, jobs and entrepreneurship. He says at the rate Biden is going, he’s confident the president will get to those aspects.
An economic action Biden could take right away is addressing student loan debt, Johnson argues. Student loans are a burden carried by all communities, but especially people of color, he says.
Take teachers, for example, who are often strapped with so much student loan debt that they leave the profession, he says.
“But if we work toward an effort to discharge those loans, it stimulates the economy. It rewards public sector workers that keep our society moving,” he says. “And it would have a net positive impact for many diverse communities — particularly African Americans and Latinos — who needed student loans just to get through school and be positioned to go back to their communities to teach.”
So far, Biden has been pushing for racial equity through executive orders — a federal directive that could be easily overturned by another president in the future.
Johnson says Biden is “setting the standard for what should come out of Congress” with his slew of executive orders — actions that shouldn’t be minimized if examined historically.
An executive order in 1941 allowed Black Americans to serve in the military and fight during World War II, Johnson explains, a move that later opened up the opportunity for Black Americans to work for the federal government.
“So for African Americans, we understand the importance historically of executive orders,” he says, but he also recognizes the need for these orders to morph into legislation for the sake of being “cemented in our culture.”
“The Voting Rights Act of ‘65, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of ‘64,” he says, “those are all things that became embedded in our policy landscape, which really opened up this nation to be a more perfect union.”
This segment aired on January 27, 2021.