Biden denounces white supremacy in Howard University address

OPINION: The Biden-Harris record makes it clear that they will do all they can to push forward in the struggle against the cancer of white supremacy.

Joe Biden, Howard University, Howard,
President Joe Biden speaks at Howard University’s commencement in Washington, Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

In an impassioned commencement address Saturday at Howard University, President Joe Biden said “the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland is white supremacy” and acknowledged “the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart.”

“Reject political extremism, and reject political violence,” Biden said, urging graduates to “stand up against the poison of white supremacy.”

The president said he’d hoped that “violence and hate were losing ground” when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 as America’s first Black president, along with Biden as vice president. But when he saw neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen marching in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Biden said, “I knew I had to stay engaged and get back in public life.” 

Without naming him, Biden criticized former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, for saying “there were very fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, equating the racist and antisemitic marchers with demonstrators protesting against hatred. A white supremacist was convicted of first-degree murder after driving his car into a crowd of protesters and killing a young woman.

Biden urged graduates to demand elected officials pass gun safety legislation to reduce the terrible toll of gun violence in our country and to “stand against books being banned and Black history being erased” by conservatives who are working to prohibit schools from teaching students an accurate account of past and president racism in America.

The president pointed out that his administration has provided historically Black colleges and universities like Howard nearly $6 billion in assistance and praised the role of HBCUs in producing large percentages of Black professionals. And he pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris is a proud graduate of Howard.

Biden drew his loudest cheers when he mentioned his efforts to eliminate thousands of dollars in college debt for tens of millions of Americans. “This new Republican Party is dead set against it, in suing my administration,” Biden said. In addition, House Republicans are calling for an end to the student debt relief as part of the spending cuts they are demanding in exchange for allowing the federal government to borrow more money and avoid a catastrophic default on the national debt. 

Polls show that Black Americans know Biden is a fighter for justice and against the continued systemic racism that plagues our nation. A Yahoo News-YouGov poll taken May 5-8 found that 73% of Black people approve of the job Biden is doing — the highest approval rating of any group. In contrast, Biden’s approval rating among whites was only 37%.

Similarly, Vice President Harris — the first Black, female and South Asian person to hold the office — had the approval of 69% of Black Americans but only 34% of whites, the poll found.

President Biden, Howard commencement,
President Joe Biden speaks at Howard University’s commencement in Washington, Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Biden-Harris team has an impressive record in creating opportunities for Black Americans and improving the lives of all Americans. 

For example, Black unemployment peaked at 16.8 percent in May 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic but was only 4.7 percent last month — the lowest rate since 1940, when record-keeping began. Yet the white unemployment rate was 3.1 percent in April, meaning there is more work to do to reduce and ultimately erase the Black-white employment gap.

In addition, Biden appointed Kentanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, along with record numbers of Black people to federal judgeships and positions in his administration.

Biden and Harris are campaigning for reelection with the slogan “Let’s finish the job.”  When it comes to Black Americans in particular, more must be done in the face of Republican attempts to turn back the clock on decades of progress.

For example, police and vigilantes are continuing to kill unarmed Black people at a frightening rate. According to a Washington Post database, Black people are shot and killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Democratic efforts to pass police reform legislation has been blocked by Republicans in Congress.

Republicans at the state and local level are continuing their efforts to suppress votes likely to go to Democrats, hitting Black voters especially hard. Affirmative action may be outlawed by the Supreme Court. Federal budget cuts demanded by congressional Republicans would cause the gravest harm to Black people because we are disproportionately represented among the most disadvantaged Americans.

Racism has been baked into America’s DNA since the first enslaved Africans were brought to colonial Virginia in 1619. As Biden said in his address at Howard, America has often not lived up to the idea that “we’re all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.” Yet, we have made great progress since I was growing up in the segregated South in the 1960s and enormous progress since the days my parents were growing up.

I’m under no illusions that the Biden-Harris team will be able to abolish racism, inequity and inequality if given four more years in the White House. But their record makes clear that they will do all they can in the face of Republican resistance to push forward in the struggle against the cancer of white supremacy that has long eaten away at America’s soul. 

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is a veteran political strategist, Senior Advisor at Purple Strategies, New York Times bestselling author, Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and sought-after Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning media contributor to such outlets as ABC News, USA Today and TheGrio. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. Donna was the first Black American to serve as the manager of a major-party presidential campaign, running the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Georgetown University and served as the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. She has lectured at nearly 250 colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion; women in leadership; and restoring civility in American politics.

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