2020 U.S. Presidential Elections: Forging a Path Ahead under a Biden-Harris Administration
U.S. global leadership on human rights starts at home. From the Muslim Ban to declaring a pretextual national emergency to construct a barrier wall at the southern border with Mexico, domestic laws, policies, and practices under the Trump administration undermined America’s credibility and moral standing to prevent human rights abuses abroad. The incoming Biden-Harris administration has promised to offer correctives on a wide spectrum of civil rights and social justice issues. Indeed, from tragedy in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh to brutality in Portland, Oregon, from disproportionate COVID-19 fatalities in marginalized communities to excluding Muslim and African immigrants to scapegoating Asian Americans for a public health crisis, the last four years have laid bare the brutal effects of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance. As such, the incoming administration should prioritize policy responses as a model for the rest of the world.
Structural Racism’s Lethal Consequences
To be sure, the coronavirus crisis has exposed structural racism’s lethal consequences. The pandemic’s effect on marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious communities was exacerbated by—while concurrently worsening—minority socioeconomic status, health conditions, living conditions, and related inequities. The public health crisis not only created enhanced awareness about these social inequities, but it also revealed the potentially lethal consequences of structural discrimination, particularly among Black, Latinx, and indigenous populations.
For instance, 30 percent of coronavirus patients were African Americans even though the minority group comprises 13 percent of the U.S. population. In a similar vein, the Navajo Nation had the highest per capita rate of infections in the United States. Additionally, Latinos constitute 18 percent of the national population but they accounted for 33 percent of all coronavirus cases. Moreover, Black, Hispanic, and Native American children make up 78 percent of all coronavirus youth fatalities. According to research, this is largely because racial and ethnic minorities are unable to shelter at home, live with preexisting conditions, and lacked access to healthcare for treatment.
Arguably, these jarring realities are merely symptomatic of a formidable crisis inadequately addressed in housing, employment, and healthcare, among other laws.
Interpersonal Discrimination Is Growing More Violent
From prejudicial attitudes about racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups to verbal threats and physical assaults directed against them, the coronavirus crisis exacerbated interpersonal and individual-level discrimination in myriad contexts. Commonly scapegoated as carriers, for example, physical attacks and verbal harassment against Asian Americans are now rampant. They are not the only minority community to experience the violent effects of social, political, and cultural othering, however.
Even prior to the pandemic, hate crimes involving physical violence—e.g., intimidation, assault, and homicide—had reached a 16-year high. Since the 2016 presidential elections, for instance, hate crimes against the Latinx community surged more than 50 percent. Further, anti-Black hate crimes make up approximately 47 percent of all race- or ethnicity-based hate crimes even though the minority community only comprises 13 percent of the population. Additionally, Muslim and Jewish Americans are also experiencing disproportionate rates of interpersonal violence.
Still, hate crimes are vastly underreported by and to law enforcement officials. While some states have not yet enacted hate crimes statutes, the remainder does not treat such crimes consistently. Whereas an act or threat of violence may qualify as a hate crime in one jurisdiction, victims may be excluded in another. Additionally, prosecutions are not uniformly pursued notwithstanding federal law.
Institutionalized Discrimination Targets Minorities
The emergence of exclusionary immigration laws evidences worsening institutionalized discrimination. In addition to individual-level and structural discrimination, the coronavirus crisis inspired institutionalized discrimination—laws, policies, and practices excluding immigrants and other perceived cultural, racial, and ethnic outsiders.
Last April, for instance, the UN warned that the United States was using the pandemic to summarily expel asylum seekers. As part of a long-term strategy to slow the influx of newcomers, President Donald Trump has implemented additional restrictions. He also falsely claimed that the construction of a barrier wall on the border with Mexico will prevent further infections.
Still, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the recent Muslim and African Bans, barring racial, ethnic, and cultural minorities is not particularly innovative. Indeed, it is the same xenophobia, but the subject of official derision simply evolves in response to the political, social, and economic context.
Forging a Path Ahead
This International Human Rights Day, the German Marshall Fund—in strategic partnership with the American Bar Association—hosted a policy summit designed to advance racial equity and social justice principles. Over the course of two days, from December 9th to 10th, the interdisciplinary conference featuring leaders, scholars, and policymakers explored myriad manifestations of interpersonal, structural, and institutionalized discrimination to create enhanced awareness around the issues noted above. The convening, which drew nearly 5,000 registrants, also culminated in concrete, community-driven policy recommendations for the incoming administration to achieve positive social, political, and legal reform that ensures a better tomorrow for all.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.