Joe Biden

Remarks on Racial Justice and Equity and an Exchange With Reporters

January 26, 2021

The President. Good afternoon, folks. I thank the Vice President for being with me today as well.

In my campaign for President, I made it very clear that the moment had arrived as a Nation where we face deep racial inequities in America and systemic racism that has plagued our Nation for far, far too long.

I said it over the course of the past year that the blinders had been taken come off the Nation of the American people. What many Americans didn't see, or had simply refused to see, couldn't be ignored any longer.

Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd's life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around—all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn't be forgotten. It stirred the conscience and—of tens of millions of Americans, and in my view, it marked a turning point in this country's attitude toward racial justice.

When his 6-year-old daughter Gianna, who I met with when I met with the family—I leaned down to say hi to her, and she said—looked at me, and she said, "Daddy changed the world." That's what Gianna said, his daughter. "Daddy changed the world." And I believe she is right, not because this kind of injustice stopped—it clearly hasn't—but because the ground has shifted, because it's changed minds and mindsets, because it laid the groundwork for progress.

COVID-19 has further ripped a path of destruction through every community in America—but no one has been spared—but the devastation in communities of color has been nothing short of stunning. Just look at the numbers: 40 percent of frontline workers—nurses, first responders, grocery store workers—are Americans of color, and many are still living on the edge. One in ten Black Americans is out of work today. One in eleven Latino Americans is out of work today. One in seven households in America—about one in four Black, one in five Latino households in America—report that they don't have enough food to eat in the United States of America.

Black and Latino Americans are dying of COVID-19 at rates nearly three times that of White Americans. And it's not White Americans' fault, but it's just a fact. And the Americans now know it, especially younger Americans.

One of the reasons I'm so optimistic about this Nation is that today's generation of young Americans is the most progressive, thoughtful, inclusive generation that America has ever seen. And they are pulling us toward justice in so many ways, forcing us to confront the huge gap in economic—excuse me, economic inequity between those at the top and everyone else, forcing us to confront the existential crisis of climate; and yes, forcing us to confront systemic racism and White supremacy.

It's just been weeks since all of America witnessed a group of thugs, insurrectionists, political extremists, and White supremacists violently attack the Capitol of our democracy. And so now, now is the time to act. It's time to act because that's what the faith and morality calls us to do.

Across nearly every faith, the same principles hold: We're all God's children; we should treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves. And this is time to act—and this time to act is because it's what the core values of this Nation call us to do. And I believe the vast majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—share these values and want us to act as well.

We've never fully lived up to the founding principles of this Nation—to state the obvious—that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives. And it's time to act now, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because if we do, we'll all be better off for it.

For too long, we've allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this Nation to fester. You know, we've bought the view that America is a zero-sum game in many cases: "If you succeed, I fail." "If you get ahead, I fall behind." "If you get the job, I lose mine." Maybe worst of all, "If I hold you down, I lift myself up."

We've lost sight of what President Kennedy told us when he said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." And when we lift each other up, we're all lifted up. You know, and the corollary is true as well: When any one of us is held down, we're all held back. More and more economic studies in recent years have proven this, but I don't think you need economic studies to see the truth.

Just imagine if instead of consigning millions of American children to underresourced schools, we gave each and every 3- and 4-year-old child a chance to learn, to go to school—not daycare, to school—and grow and thrive in school and throughout. When they've done that—the places it's been done, it shows they have an exponentially greater chance of going all the way through 12 years of school and doing it well. But you know, does anyone in this whole Nation think we're not all better off if that were to happen?

Just imagine if instead of denying millions of Americans the ability to own a home and build generational wealth—who made it possible for them buy a home, their first home—and begin to build equity to provide for their families and send their children off to school, does anyone doubt that the whole Nation will be better off?

Just imagine: Instead of denying millions of young entrepreneurs the ability to access capital, we made it possible to take their dream to market, create jobs, reinvest in their own communities. Does anyone doubt this whole Nation wouldn't be better off?

Just imagine if more incredibly creative and innovative—how much more creative and innovative we'd be if this Nation held the Historic Black Colleges and Universities to the same opportunities—and minority-serving institutions—that had the same funding and resources of public universities to compete for jobs and industries of the future. You know, just ask the first HBCU graduate elected as Vice President if that's not true.

But to do this, I believe this Nation and this Government need to change their whole approach to the issue of racial equality—equity. Yes, we need criminal justice reform, but that isn't nearly enough. We need to open the promise of America to every American. And that means 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.

That's why I issued, among the first days, my whole-of-Government Executive order that will, for the first time, advance equity for all throughout our Federal policies and institutions. It focuses on the full range of communities who have been long underserved and overlooked: people of color; Americans with disabilities; LGBTQ Americans; religious minorities; rural, urban, suburban communities facing persistent poverty.

And I've asked Ambassador Susan Rice to lead the administration's charge through the White House and Domestic Policy Council because I know we'll—she'll see it through. Every White House, every White House component, and every agency will be involved in this work because advancing equity has to be everyone's job. Today I'll be shortly signing an additional package of executive actions to continue this vital work. Housing, for example: Housing is a right in America, and homeownership is an essential tool to wealth creation and to be passed down to generations.

Today I'm directing the Department of Housing and urban affairs—and Urban Development to redress historical racism in Federal housing policies. Today I'm directing the Federal agency to reinvigorate the consultation process with Indian Tribes. Respect the Tribal sovereignty—respect for Tribal sovereignty will be a cornerstone of our engaging with Native American communities.

This builds on the work we did last week to expand Tribes' access to the Strategic National Stockpile for the first time, to ensure they receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to fight this pandemic.

Today I'm directing Federal agencies to combat resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we've seen skyrocket during this pandemic. This is unacceptable, and it's un-American. I've asked the Department of Justice to strengthen its partnership with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to prevent those hate crimes. I've also asked the Department of Health and Human Services to put out best practices for combating xenophobia in our national response to COVID.

Look, in the weeks ahead, I'll be reaffirming the Federal Government's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility, building on the work we started in the Obama-Biden administration. That's why I rescinded the previous administration's harmful ban on diversity and sensitivity training and abolished the offensive, counterfactual 1776 Commission. Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies.

Today I'm also issuing an Executive order that will ultimately end the Justice Department's use of the private prison industry—private prisons, an industry that houses pretrial detainees and Federal prisoners. The Executive order directs the Attorney General to decline to renew contracts with privately operated criminal facilities, a step we started to take at the end of the Obama administration and was reversed under the previous administration.

This is the first step to stop corporations from profiteering off of incarcerating—incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as the studies show. And it is just the beginning of my administration's plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system.

Here's another thing that we need to do: We need to restore and expand the Voting Rights Act—named after our dear friend, John Lewis—and continue to fight back against laws that many States are engaged in to suppress the right to vote, while expanding access to the ballot box for all eligible voters.

Because here's the deal, and I'll close with this: I ran for President because I believe we're in a battle for the soul of this Nation. And the simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist. We can't eliminate it if—it's not going to be overnight. We can't eliminate everything.

But it's corrosive, it's destructive, and it's costly. It costs every American, not just who have felt the sting of racial injustice. We aren't just less of a—we are not just a nation of morally deprived because of systemic racism; we're also less prosperous, we're less successful, we're less secure.

So we must change, and I know it's going to take time. But I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the Nation is ready to change, but Government has to change as well. We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day: today, tomorrow, and every day.

Now I'm going to sign these executive actions to continue the work to make real the promise of America for every American. Again, I'm not promising we can end it tomorrow, but I promise you: We're going to continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the Federal Government is going to be part of that effort.

Thank you.

Okay. This first Executive order is a memorandum for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to redress our Nation's and the Federal Government's history of discriminatory housing practices and policies.

[At this point, the President signed a memorandum on redressing our Nation's and the Federal Government's history of discriminatory housing practices and policies.]

The next Executive order is reforming the incarceration system by eliminating the use of privately operated criminal detention facilities.

[The President signed an Executive order titled "Reforming Our Incarceration System To Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities."]

The third Executive order is a memorandum for the heads of Executive departments and agencies: Tribal consultation and strengthening nation-to-nation relationships.

[The President signed a memorandum on Tribal consultation and strengthening nation-to-nation relationships.]

The last Executive order is condemning and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

[The President signed a memorandum on condemning and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.]

I think the country is ready, and I know this administration is ready. Thank you.

President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia

Q. Mr. President, what did you talk to Vladimir Putin about?

The President. You. [Laughter] He sent his best.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:06 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Racial Justice and Equity and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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