'Very refreshing': UNC racial equity expert takes stock of Biden action on systemic racism

On his seventh day in office, President Joe Biden moved to define his presidency in terms not often heard at the White House -- emphasizing racial equity and systemic racism.

"Now is the time to act," Biden said before a round of executive orders addressing racial bias in housing and the nation's prison system.

"It's very, very refreshing to have the leader of the free world use language like systemic racism and talk about the difference between equality and equity," said UNC professor Dr. Deborah Stroman, who teaches the terms every day while training leaders and organizations to combat and address racism at the Greensboro-based Racial Equity Institute.

Stroman viewed the president's executive orders as a direct result of George Floyd's death last spring, under the knee of Minneapolis police.

"The George Floyd video, the murder, that truly sparked an awakening," said Stroman. "More people, even in our local communities, white, brown and black, are speaking up and saying something's wrong, that something is not working well and we need to address it."

Indeed, Biden invoked Floyd's name in his remarks at the White House, proclaiming the killing forced "the blinders" off of America.

"What Americans didn't see or simply refused to see couldn't be ignored any longer," he said.

Joe Biden orders end of federally run private prisons

In ordering the Justice Department to curb the use of private prisons, Biden called it a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration.
And at Housing and Urban Development, Biden ordered the department to promote an equitable federal housing policy.

"We know with structural racism that exists. Many brown and Black people do not get the benefit of (home equity)," Stroman said. "We're given interest rates that are higher than whites and terms that aren't as favorable. And so it can serve as a debt burden."

There is backlash to Biden's plans.

Some conservative critics accused the president of dividing the country along issues of racial identity. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul told Fox News that Biden attacked Republicans as racists with his mention of white supremacists in his inaugural address.

Not discouraged, Stroman advised the White House to keep pushing forward. "The president saying we have a long way to go and we have to address it, this is very exciting," she said.

One private company currently operating federal prisons called Biden's order "a solution in search of a problem." Federal prisoners in privately-run facilities make up only a fraction of federal inmates currently behind bars.
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