Dec 21st, 2020, 01:12 PM

The Biden Administration: Diversity Alone Isn't Enough

By Clara Appia
November 2020 election headlines from The New York Times and Le Monde. Image Credit: Unsplash/Markus Spiske
The Biden administration is shaping up to be one of the most diverse in American history, but will that be enough to placate citizens after four years in Trump's America?

The short answer is no. 

American President-elect Joseph Biden is set to ascend to the highest office in the land with a collection of some of the most diverse civil servants ever to hold their positions. After four years of the Trump administration, many are ready to celebrate the regime change and are heralding a new era of American politics. During the campaign, Biden brought a diverse slate of celebrities to speak on his commitment to their communities. 

“The only way we’re gonna win this fight, a fight against injustice, is by voting,” Grammy-winning recording artist Stevie Wonder told a crowd gathered in his home state of Michigan in late October. “We must vote justice in and injustice out.”

The campaign did not only rely on surrogates to appeal to the American societal moral compass — Biden himself spent much of the campaign characterizing the election as a "battle for the soul of the nation." 

"Character is on the ballot, the character of the country, and this is our opportunity to leave the dark, angry politics of the last four years behind us — to choose hope over fear, unity over division, science over fiction," Biden said. "I believe it's time to unite the country, to come together as a nation."

I’ve long said that America leads not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. I am proud to put forward this incredible team that will lead by example.

Posted by Joe Biden on Tuesday, November 24, 2020


So far, the President-elect is delivering on that promise with appointments across the federal government that reflect the increasing diversity of the country: 

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Senator from California, is set to be the first woman VP, and the first person of Afro-Caribbean and southeast Asian descent to hold her position.
  • Dr. Janet Yellen, former chair of the United States Federal Reserve, is set to be the first woman to hold the position of Secretary of the Treasury. 
  • Pete Buttigieg, former Mayor of South Bend Indiana and Democratic Presidential Candidate, is set to be the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ cabinet secretary as the Secretary of Transportation.
  • Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat of African American ancestry, is returning as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, is set to hold the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services and is of Mexican ancestry.
  • Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, is set to be the first woman of color and first person of South Asian ancestry to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

Several more cabinet members and administrative officials have been pulled from all corners of the country and from all heritages to represent and manage the nation over the next four years. While these nominations are cause for celebration, this of course does not spell the end of the divisive political climate in the United States.

It also sadly does not spell the end of the racist, misogynistic and anti-LGBTQ attacks, rallies and protests that have ravaged the country during Trump's presidency. After the arduous election process, it's hard to imagine a more divided and angry United States, but 2020 is only the culmination of a gradually tensing political climate. Over the last four years, many have retreated into their respective bubbles and doubled down on their belief systems while decrying the opposing side as a caricature of evil. For certain sections of the nation, the opposing liberal party is destined to destabilize the country, open the borders to rapists and thieves and bring the whole world down along with them. Some have argued that this is the work of President Donald Trump and his rhetoric, and that they have never seen polarization this bad.

Protests in front of President Trump's property. Image Credit: Unsplash/Rob Walsh

Unfortunately, that rhetoric has always been a part of the fabric of the country if you read between the lines.

From its conception, the United States of America has been a nation of and for White men. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence when 56 men corroborated a document proclaiming, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” to present-day America, this country has never stood for the freedoms of all.

Nearly 3/4 of the signatories owned slaves. The author, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves himself and did not believe that all were created equal. He was incapable of rising beyond the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

We do not have to look too far afield to find more examples of the continued tradition of disregard for those of other races and for women. The next 150 years of the United States saw the transatlantic slave trade, slavery, genocide of the Native American population, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the rise of the Klu Klux Klan continually disenfranchise ethnic minorities in the country.

Perhaps we can discount those early years and say that they do not have a strong bearing on the society we live in today?

Sadly, the next 100 have been just as turbulent. The global economic Depression in 1929, colonization of the Global South, two world wars, segregation, general economic disenfranchisement and redlining, the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Drugs, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the ongoing War on Terror have disproportionately impacted minority individuals and continually economically harm the people society has decided to classify as minorities on a global level.

You know why he's here. Image Credit: Unsplash/The Library of Congress Collection

It would be a long and painful process to explain how those currently in power continue to benefit from the systems those slave traders and owners created to solidify racial division long after slavery has been ended. Breaking down how capitalist market tycoons have systematically undercut efforts to create a social safety net with enough funding to address the issue in a meaningful way would take an entire academic paper. I will also leave the explanations of how Western world leaders upheld the racist policies of the U.S. southern states and supported South African apartheid for international relations scholars.  

Highlighting the complicity of real estate brokers in implementing regional zoning laws, also known as redlining, should be left to those living in the impacted communities. Let us not forget the hard-line drug politicians, who created minimum sentencing rules and more that have exploded the U.S. prison population to a size not seen anywhere else in the entire developed world. The Middle East will certainly not forget how American imperialist policies have been leveraged in the preservation of oil, and the wars that are continually waged in the names of all Americans.

We know that past politicians did not seem amenable to breaking down these systems, mostly because they benefit from them. After all, why protest the abolishment of them when they serve your goals? More pointedly, why would they condemn and attack those who are trying harder and taking responsibility if they were not overtly lining their pockets with money from private prisons, lobbyists and military contractors?

We could take the time to explain how all of these interacting events and policy positions have impacted the families of the very people who are now set to hold power in the United States. However, it is now most important to examine if these diverse newly elected and appointed officials will now act in the name of all who have been hurt by policy that disregarded them. Let us focus our energy on applying pressure to the upcoming administration on all of these points.

All Skin Folk Aren't Kin Folk

There's a saying in the Black community that captures the essence of the debate around Kamala Harris perfectly: "all skin folk ain't kin folk." Author Zora Neale Thurston coined the term to discourage fellow Black Americans from thinking that just because we share a skin color, we have similar goals. Senator Harris is not the first Black politician to have the phrase used to describe her. Former President Barack Obama faced a similar rebuke by many on social media as they examined his record. "Respectability politics," as they are known, seem to drive the policy initiatives of both Obama and Harris. 

Simply "building an administration that looks like America" is not enough to dismantle the centuries of structural racism and sexism in the United States of America. Just as the election of 44th President Barack Obama did not end racism, President Biden's election will not end the protests around police brutality.

When Senator Harris was announced as Biden's VP pick, many took to social media to air their displeasure, denouncing her track record and accomplishments. Her complicated prosecution record elicited hand wringing among more progressive constituents, and left her open to attacks from fellow democratic primary candidates. In regard to attacks from political rival Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Harris took several days to finally respond to her challenge.


“[I] did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people. I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform,” Harris later responded. 

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done, and not by Gabbard. During Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's first run for District Attorney in San Francisco, her policy and rhetoric trended moderate with her calls for "law and order" taking center stage. 


The 90s was an interesting time for African Americans in the United States, as now-disgraced comedian Bill Cosby implored the community to get it together and "pull up their pants," a clear call back to respectability politics. Although California is known on the national stage to be a deep blue state, then-District Attorney Harris had to contend with a lot of competing interests in a state with large conservative Republican pockets. Her record reflects this push and pull, from declining to pursue the death penalty after a police officer was killed by a civilian in a shooting to her flagship "Back on Track" program. At the time, it was rare to see a Black woman, educated at an HBCU, in a government office, let alone in law enforcement. However, her ability to toe the line and be pragmatic allowed her to ascend to the second-highest office in the United States of America. 

As we look to 2021 and the inauguration, it's past time to move beyond respectability politics and make meaningful overtures to all POC and minority communities in the United States. When Republicans decry "identity politics," they miss a fundamental piece of the puzzle. For many white men and women, identity has never put them at an economic disadvantage. Sadly, even those in the LGBTQ community can not understand the struggles of the POC they march next to. 

Unfortunately, this is not a situation a diverse cabinet can overturn in one election cycle or with one term. However, Vice President-elect Harris now has a choice to make — what does she want to do for the Black and POC communities and how does she want history to remember her tenure?

The work is not on her shoulders alone.

For those who are against political correctness, I now ask — why are you so opposed to giving people the respect you happily afford any other human being? What is so offensive to you about calling your neighbors by the name they’ve asked you to call them, and letting them go about their business in whichever bathroom they choose to use? For some people, it is just words, but for others, those words breed thoughts and those thoughts breed actions. After all, why do bullies call people names? It's to make them feel small. To hurt them. Yet some in our society have decided that the continued psychological warfare on half of the population of the world is worth a few more points on the financial markets and a couple thousand more dollars in their bank accounts. 

Certain factions of the United States will continually seek to undermine and strip their fellow Americans of the few weapons they’ve allowed POC to have: their names, votes and human rights. It is these diverse government officials that must now act to protect these rights. 

Can you imagine what a glorious world it would be if the Republicans were right? Where everything was based on merit, and those with the most resources had duly earned them? Think of a world where those in power re-allocated their abundance of resources to those who lacked the ability to generate such wealth whether by nature or by choice. A world where we only had to depend on the government to ensure our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the most minimal sense of the words. A social contract wholly and happily fulfilled.

I think it's time, however, that we all take our heads out of the sand, as we do not live in the world the Republicans are trying to legislate. It literally does not exist anywhere but in the pages of Atlas Shrugged, perhaps in the notebook of Mitch McConnell, and by a fault that is truly all our own, in the halls of the United States government.

As we continue to protest, call our representatives and get out to vote, we must also continue to pressure the government into more progressive policies. Respectability politics and pragmatism will not win the day. All we have left is to hope that the Biden administration realizes how deep the pain goes for many Americans, and moves to act in the best interest of those who can not act for themselves.