GUEST COMMENTARY - Joe Biden may have once bragged about his cooperative relations with segregationists, but he still arguably owes more to African-American leadership and voters than any politician in recent history.
After all, it was black voters who bequeathed him the two critical victories in South Carolina and Georgia that led to his nomination in 2020. Perhaps that’s why he promised in his inaugural address to focus on the “sting of systemic racism” and fight encroaching “white supremacy.”
Adding action to rhetoric, Biden has embraced brazenly discriminatory policies that Barack Obama would likely have been too savvy to impose openly: special assistance to prospective black homeowners, race-based support for black farmers and black businesses, and attempts to end inflation by promoting “equity” in the financial sector through intrusive regulation.
Yet while Biden has placed racialism — making race a decisive factor in public decisions — at the heart of his political programme, in reality minorities may not prove the Castroite fifth column dreamed up by either the far-Right or their leftist doppelgängers. Minorities are more than genetic constructs; they are people with ambitions, families, and budgets. And sadly, Biden’s policies are not making their lives any better.
The inflation his administration deemed first temporary, and only a “high class” concern, is now destroying small minority-owned businesses and eroding their savings. Indeed, America’s embattled economy seems a crucial reason why minority support for Biden has been failing for months, including among black voters. By contrast, Republicans are building on Trump’s surprisingly large share of minority voters in 2020; they command the highest support from Hispanics and African-Americans in recent history. The fall of Roe could impact this, particularly among women, although many Latinos are also devout Catholics and many of them, as well as many black voters, also attend evangelical churches.
Indeed, cultural issues are part reason for the flight of minorities, include racial indoctrination in schools, ineffective law enforcement and questionable gender policies in primary schools — enough to spark a boom in home education among Latinos. A similar pattern is emerging among Asian voters, who played a critical role in San Francisco’s recall of progressive DA Chesa Boudin this month, and the defeat of progressive school board members a few weeks earlier. Similarly, the recent wave of GOP victories in Latino-dominated south Texas has ridden on the embrace of conservative social values and, perhaps most critically, reaction to the chaos unfolding at the border. When the Democrats start losing the Rio Grande Valley, a place they dominated for a century, you know things are changing.
Overall, Biden’s racialist focus also runs against a changing demographic reality. When Biden was growing up, African Americans were the primary racial minority. As late as 2005, black people and Latinos constituted 14% of the population. Today, however, the Hispanic population stands at 62 million, far outnumbering the 47 million African Americans. By 2050, according to Pew, the Hispanic population will swell to 30% of the population, more than twice the black share. Asians, meanwhile, will have grown from barely 12 million in 2000 to more than three times that number by mid-century. Taken together Asians and Latinos will account for 40% of Americans, and the vast majority of the racial minorities.
In modern America, then, political leaders need to transcend the old “black-white” paradigm embraced by Biden. Latinos and Asians (as well as a rising population of Africans from the continent or the islands) experienced very different histories than those descended from slaves or those who suffered under Jim Crow. Although many immigrants have also experienced discrimination; they also came here voluntarily to seek out a better life.
Simply put, the rhetoric around race needs to change. Rather than the language shaped by slavery, progressive Americans should instead embrace what those liberals who dominate our publications and airwaves don’t realise: that most Americans don’t learn about race in college grievance classes but by personal, daily experience. They live in a country where salsa outsells ketchup, Modelo is about to surpass Budweiser as the nation’s top beer brand, and Latin music is the fastest-growing in the country.
Perhaps nothing contradicts the racialist mantra more than the rise in intermarriage, which has soared from barely 5%i n 1980 to 17% today. The notion of America succumbing to “encroaching white supremacy” seems unlikely when 10% of babies have one white and one non-white parent and 12% of all African-Americans are immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Critically, the geography of diversity is also changing, with potential political implications. As minorities move away from the inner cities, they enter a more integrated, less economically isolate milieu. In the 50 largest metropolitan areas, 44% of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs. Nationwide, in the 53 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 residents, more than three-quarters of black and Hispanic residents now live in suburban or exurban areas.
There’s also a movement between regions, which is making red states evermore politically influential, as well as diverse. Minorities are leaving the “enlightened” centres of racialist religion — New York, California, Illinois — for the red states of the old Confederacy, Texas, Arizona, Utah and even Great Plains. It’s not hard to see why: in recent report for the Urban Reform Institute, we found minorities have generally done much better — in terms of income and homeownership in deep red areas than in the more loudly “anti-racist” blue regions. In Atlanta, African American-adjusted median incomes are more than $60,000, compared to $36,000 in San Francisco and $37,000 in Los Angeles. The median income for Latinos in Virginia Beach-Norfolk is $69,000, compared to $43,000 in Los Angeles, $47,000 in San Francisco and $40,000 in New York.
Some on the Right fear, and those on the Left hope, that this movement will drag red states into alignment with migrants from former blue homes. This may be true in terms of abortion or tolerance for Donald Trump, but progressives often forget what motivates people to move. Most minorities, like other people, have more important things to worry about than where they slot into some racialist agenda — they want a chance to make a better life for themselves and their families.
So instead of confessional mea culpas about racism and embracing Critical Race Theory, Biden would do well to help these people by focusing on the working-class needs of most Americans. After all, minorities make up over 40% of the nation’s working class and will constitute the majority by 2032. Without them, our country’s labor shortage and issues with ageing would be far worse. For all that the Left fixate on intersectional theory, few seem to connect the dots between race and class.
Ultimately, racial problems can only be solved by addressing fundamental economic issues facing Americans of all races. Rather than obsess over the original sin of slavery, we need to focus on creating opportunity for all those lacking it. Subsidies and special dispensations can only cover a relative handful of people. But policies favouring entrepreneurship, family-friendly housing, and reshoring industry would create far more lasting positive results, particularly if growth can be steered to distressed parts of the South, the southside of Chicago or the barrios of East Los Angeles, the Bronx, San Antonio, or Fresno.
The key to ending racial antagonism, then, doesn’t lie in equity programmes, but in economic growth and opportunity. Unity can’t just be conjured out of thin air — people need to feel it in their bank accounts first. This won’t be achieved through a national campaign of penance, or through boxing the country into a racial zero-sum game. If Biden really cares about America’s minorities, the goal should be simple: to help them to find a road to prosperity and financial independence, along with the rest of the country.
(Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter.)