Brief # 6 Social Justice
President Biden Signs Four Executive Orders Aimed at Racial Equality
by Erika Shannon
February 1, 2021
On January 20th, Joe Biden was finally sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. In his first week in office, there has been a flurry of executive orders being signed by the new president-elect; some of these are aimed at repairing what Trump may have broken, and others are aimed at making America a better and more inclusive place for all. Of the 24 executive orders signed by President Biden so far, four of them involve promoting racial equality. These four executive orders are comprised of: directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to “take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies,” directing the Department of Justice to end its use of private prisons, reaffirming the federal government’s “commitment to tribal sovereignty and consultation,” and combatting xenophobia against Asian American and Pacific Islanders. It is important to familiarize yourself with the executive orders being signed, as they are laying some of the groundwork for Joe Biden’s plans for his presidency.
The four executive orders regarding racial justice have all been prompted by specific problems in America. It is no secret that housing policies in the U.S. have been discriminatory for a long time, with minorities often being mistreated or denied access to affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods. While things such as the Fair Housing Act have been aimed at minimizing discrimination, there are still underhanded examples of mistreatment of minorities in the housing market. Studies show that real estate agents show fewer available homes and apartments to minorities than equally qualified white people. In turn, minorities housing options are restricted, which is a serious problem.
When it comes to private prisons, they are run much differently from public prisons. A study done by the Justice Department in 2016 indicated that private prisons see higher rates of assault, use of force incidents, and lockdowns than public prisons. These problems have caused people to become concerned with the way private prisons are operated, and this executive order aims to address that.
The United States was essentially built on stolen land, and over the years that fact has fallen by the wayside. Native Americans still face threats to their land, with things like the Dakota Access Pipeline that intrude on native lands.
The final executive order on Asian and Pacific Islander xenophobia is directly related to coronavirus. With the virus’s supposed origins being Wuhan, China, there has been a lot of negativity surrounding Asians abroad, as well as Asian Americans. For a while, there was a period of time where people were not patronizing Chinese restaurants in American cities, which was hurting Asian Americans financially. While Trump was in office, he used the harmful rhetoric of referring to coronavirus as the “China virus,” which only further alienated Asians and Pacific Islanders. These four executive orders look like they are going to be a step in the right direction, but it is a bit early to tell if President Biden will follow through with his promise of promoting racial equity.
President Bieen’s executive orders regarding racial equity are important for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re important because our former President, Donald Trump, did nothing to promote racial justice in the U.S. If anything, his refusal to condemn white supremacy has exacerbated racial tensions; at the very least, it has made many of his racist followers come out of the woodwork and act on their racist ideals.
There is a long way to go before there is a bigger sense of inclusion for minorities in the U.S. For example, while the executive order to close private prisons is good, there are far bigger problems regarding race in our justice system. The whole justice system needs reform, and something must be done to address systemic misconduct in police departments across the country. Here in America, there are actually only 14,000 inmates still located in private prisons; this constitutes only around 9% of total people incarcerated. It is clear that the bigger problem has not yet been tackled, but there is hope that our new President will right some of the wrongs that have plaguing minorities in America for centuries. Taking any course of action is better than sitting back and letting things go on as they are. While President Biden has signed many executive orders in his first week, these four regarding racial equity are a big change from what we’ve seen in the past four years with Trump in office. There is optimism that Biden will continue to take bigger steps towards racial equity for all here in the U.S.
- To learn more about housing discrimination or report an incident, visit the National Fair Housing Aliance website.
- To get involved in the fight for prison reform, there are resources available at the Prison Policy Initiative and Fair Fight Initiative
- To report an incident or find out more about combatting Asian xenophobia in the US, visit Asian Americans Advancing Justice.