Racial Inequality

Who Will Best Address Unequal Treatment of Americans by Race?

Go straight to The Bottom Line

Racial inequality, a persistent and unresolved issue in America since the very founding of our nation, has once again moved to the center of our national conversation as we head into the final weeks of the 2020 election season. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, amplified by fury over the shooting of Breanna Taylor in March, set off massive demonstrations across the country. The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, both from a health and an economic perspective. 

Statistics abound as to the inequities that people of color face in America. Whether in areas of employment, wealth and home ownership, access to high-quality education, rates of incarceration, life expectancy and quality healthcare, or simply the most basic right to vote, a much higher proportion of Black, Hispanic and other historically disadvantaged races deal with significantly higher hurdles and challenges than is the case for white Americans. There is no need to delve into those details here; they are well documented and are established facts. The question on the table is, which candidate for president will best address this unequal treatment?

Chart: Vox

On September 29, 2020, ABC news published an insightful analysis comparing Trump vs. Biden on the issue of racial justice, which can be found here. This summary draws, in part, on the information and conclusions presented in that article. 

Donald Trump’s Perspective

During his first term in office, Donald Trump has generally sought to strengthen support among segments of his mostly white base by igniting fears of “the other” through policies and rhetoric. Trump entered the presidential race claiming that Mexico was sending crime, drugs and rapists to the U.S. His “big, fat, beautiful wall” is clearly intended to keep Latinos out of the country. He instituted a travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries. When a participant at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA killed a counter-protestor with his car, Trump stated that there are “very fine people on both sides”. He has targeted four congresswomen of color, suggesting that they go back to the countries from which they came (three of the four were born in the U.S.). As we moved into the 2020 race, Trump called Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate”. While overturning an Obama-era housing rule intended to fight racial segregation, he promised to “save our suburbs”. He has ordered a halt to anti-racism training in federal workplaces, calling it “anti-American propaganda”. He claims that systemic racism in the justice system will heal itself when the economy is strong again. Most recently, in the first presidential debate held September 29th in Cleveland, Trump specifically refused to disavow white supremacist organizations. Donald Trump claims to be “the least racist person in the world” but his actions, policies and statements belie that opinion. 

Joe Biden’s Perspective

Joe Biden, of course, served as vice president for eight years to America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, and he made history with his selection of Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Nevertheless, Joe Biden does bring a somewhat complicated history with respect to racial relations. In the 1970’s he was a strong opponent of federally mandated busing to integrate segregated schools – a position Kamala Harris highlighted in a Democratic primary debate when she was still in that race. Biden spearheaded the 1994 crime bill, which led to an increase in mass incarcerations, disproportionately affecting Blacks and other minorities. Biden has also been criticized by the left for collaborating closely with segregationist southern Democrats during his years the Senate, though he has responded that he didn’t agree with their racial views, but needed them to get things done. (In effect, Biden was “working across the aisles” in a bipartisan manner – a skill he has demonstrated some affinity for and one that, if he is elected, might serve him and the country well in these highly partisan times.)

Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden very clearly acknowledges that there is systemic racism in America. Addressing this challenge is a pervasive feature of his platform, beginning with “Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America” a detailed program that incorporates measures to advance economic mobility, expand access to high-quality education, end health disparities by race, strengthen America’s commitment to justice, make the rights to vote and to equal protection real, and address environmental justice disparities. These goals are also incorporated directly into area-specific plans. For example, Biden’s economic program, “Build Back Better”, includes a specific racial equity pillar focusing on ensuring that Black, Latino and other disadvantaged minorities are finally welcomed as full participants in the American economy, and the “Biden Plan for strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice” includes extensive language focusing on the racial inequities in our justice system. In their first joint interview after accepting the nomination, on ABC News’ 20/20, Kamala Harris affirmed her view that Biden “actually knows how to speak the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ … unlike the current president, who will never speak those words”. 

That is a telling endorsement. 

The Bottom Line:

Race relations is but one issue among many in the 2020 election campaign, and for some – including some Blacks, Latinos, and other non-whites – it may not be the most important issue. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight of public polling data suggests that roughly 10% of Black voters are planning to support Donald Trump in 2020, similar to the support he received in 2016, and that between a quarter and a third of Hispanics nationally back him. Nevertheless, the difference between the two candidates in this area could not be more stark.  Donald Trump will try to say that he values Black America, but his actions – essentially all of them over the years and especially in current times when he is so focused on serving his base – prove otherwise.  That includes his boast about the Black unemployment rate in 2019; while he’s right that it was historically low, Black Americans were still experiencing an unprecedented disparity in wealth and income from the richest Americans (virtually all White), and that strong economy was artificially supported with a Republican tax cut that only increased that disparity. None of these policies are destined to significantly benefit people of color over the medium to long term.

While Joe Biden has taken positions in his earlier policy years that have negatively impacted Blacks and other minorities, he readily acknowledges the importance of evolutionary thinking, believes that there is a systemic and historical issue here that needs confronting, and is preparing to implement a wide range of programs that will address racial inequities in economics, education, healthcare, our justice system, and the rights we hold as American citizens.

If this issue is important to you as a voter, then your choice should be clear. A vote for Trump will lock in the advantages of the white upper class – literally, the ten percent. A vote for Biden would more likely benefit everyone else.