Former Vice President Joe Biden asserted Monday that Americans are “ready in ways they didn’t realize before” for systemic change to address racial inequities in America, suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic and the death of a black man in police custody in Minnesota has exposed those schisms to a new wave of people.
“I think that the blinders have sort of been taken off the American people in this pandemic, and now what they’re seeing as the consequence of the flat killing of George Floyd,” Biden said during a virtual roundtable with the mayors of St. Paul, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles — four cities wracked by protests over the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who had been detained by Minneapolis police.
The pandemic, which in America has affected minorities at disproportionate rates, had helped expose “institutional cracks across the board,” Biden argued. In doing so, the former vice president suggested the pandemic may have helped prime a new set of voters for the kinds of systemic changes he and fellow Democrats have called for.
Biden argued Monday that such inequities may have awakened Americans who had previously been indifferent or passive to the struggles of minorities in America.
“I think they have come to realize that portion who never thought [of] themselves as being unattentive, or not caring or having a prejudiced bone in their body all of a sudden are waking up and saying ‘Whoa,’” he told the group, eliciting nods from the group, which included three black mayors.
“The band aid has been ripped off, the scar is apparent,” he continued. “I think they’re ready to do something about it.”
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee added that he believes the new mindset would extend not only “to the whole notion of systemic racism but also well beyond that,” like securing equal access to capital to start a business and equal access to education.
“I think they’re ready in ways they didn’t realize before because they’re looking at who’s been carrying the country on their back,” he said, pointing to frontline workers like grocery store employees, first responders and health care workers. Biden also pointed to complaints that minority-owned businesses have struggled to gain access to financial assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program set up by Congress to aid small businesses shuttered by the virus.
While Biden had been the subject of criticism early in his presidential campaign for advocating a return to pre-Trump politics, the former vice president made clear Monday that “we have to build back. We have to build back better. We can’t build back to what we had before.”
The events of the past week, he contended, had “invoked the full weight” of American history, including “how black lives have been devalued by society.”
The American people, he continued, are angry at the “intolerable” treatment of black Americans. But Biden argued that anger may fuel some of the changes he and others have called for in order to address broader racial injustices throughout the country.
“The fact is we need that anger, we need that to tell us to move forward, it helps us push through this pain and reach the other side to hopefully greater progress, equality and inclusion and opportunity in our country,” he said.