Biden's Challenge on Race.

AuthorGilmore, Brian

In his recently released posthumous autobiography, / Came As a Shadow, longtime Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson recalls one of the many times when he was accused of playing the "race card." Thompson, the first Black coach to win an NCAA Division I Men's Championship, and an outspoken critic of racism in American society, answered the charges against him in typical Thompson fashion:

"Fuck that," he said, "Y'all stacked the deck. I played the cards you dealt me."

I grew up in the same Washington, D.C., as Coach Thompson and attended the same all-boys Catholic high school. By my time, the overt signs of our shared racially segregated capital were diminished, but the residual inequities remained.

By the time I was born, my neighborhood and most of the city was Black; whites had scattered to the suburbs, taking their wealth and tax revenue with them. The public schools in my city began to slowly descend into dysfunction due to lack of resources and entrenched racist policies.

Black families struggled to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children amid growing poverty, drug addiction, and a constant lack of opportunity. Meanwhile, the "vanilla" suburbs, which whites had moved to in droves, flourished. Schools were plentiful and well funded. Civic resources were abundant, jobs and economic opportunities were everywhere.

Wealth, the silver bullet of upward mobility and equality in the United States, soared for whites in the mostly white affluent suburbs while many Black people in the city were left behind. While I did not grasp it at the time, I was living in the United States' "stacked deck" of racial inequity. And my experience was similar to that of Black Americans all across the country.

Now that Joe Biden has taken office as the nation's forty-sixth President, with Kamala Harris, the nation's first Black woman Vice President, at his side, it will be their turn to try redealing the cards. There is reason to hope-and reason to doubt-that they are up for the challenge.

"How do we break the cycle?" Biden asked during a speech announcing his racial-equity agenda this past July. "In good times, communities of color still lag. In bad times, they get hit first and the hardest, and in recovery, they take the longest to bounce back. This is about justice."

"The Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy," on the Biden-Harris campaign website, contains an extensive wish list...

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