‘O Say Can You See’ Yourself in America?

Angela Collins, January 2021

DEI and the Biden-Harris Administration

The Georgia Senate run-off elections have placed an increasingly scrutinizing eye on diversity in America, and how businesses and communities respond. The state of Georgia is selecting its representatives against the backdrop of demands from the previous administration to erode and invalidate the legitimacy and will of voters of color. One philosophical pillar and cornerstone of this democratic experiment we call America persists: can you see yourself in America?

As a new year unfolds, unprecedented attention is focused on the diversity of the American populace and what it means for our country as a whole. President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris have the daunting task to build a more just, more inclusive society where, once again, the American dream is available to all who dare to pursue it. They have embarked on this journey to inclusiveness with a specific focus on equity—naming a slate of political appointees that reflect the richness, diversity and complexity of America. They’ve only just begun. More cabinet selections and hundreds of other appointments are currently being made by the incoming administration.

Embedded in this strategy is the intentional effort to make America look more like America.

Nonetheless, in this polarized political climate, diversity in Washington is only one step toward uniting the nation.

Some Reasons Why Diversity is Good for the Biden-Harris Administration:

  • Children. The Biden-Harris selections reflect the “browning” of America (minority births have outnumbered Caucasian births since at least 2011). History-making appointments, like the first African-American to head the Pentagon and the first Indigenous American to head the Department of the Interior, help all young people internalize what’s possible.
  • Trust in government. As the administration builds out a leadership that feels and looks fresh, Biden and Harris are simultaneously rebuilding trust in key entities that were dismantled during the current administration. For example, Biden has vowed to restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was established by the Obama-Biden administration and eliminated by the Trump administration in 2018. It’s also good to see Dr. Anthony Fauci as the administration’s Chief Medical Advisor.
  • Vaccination momentum. Along with representation, enthusiasm around the new administration supports the effort to get every American vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s crucial to persuade people of color who are skeptical, based on historical exploitation, of new medical procedures.

Dismantling the Polarization Trifecta:

There are a few elements driving the polarization of our nation that diversity alone won’t fix. It is what Psychology Today contributor Arash Javanbakht, M.D., refers to as the triangle of division: fear, tribalism, and misinformation.

  • Addressing race-based fears. It is my firm belief that many race-based fears are rooted in the misunderstanding of equality. For a community accustomed to privilege, equity and equality can feel like oppression. This will be a persistent issue that the Biden-Harris administration must address over and over again. As the nation becomes more black and brown, how do we shift the perception so that the traditional infrastructure of power and privilege better understands that race-based agency is not a zero-sum game? Equity is not a pie. More for one group does not mean less for another group. It simply means that everyone is welcome to sit at the table. Government officials work for all of us. The Biden-Harris administration will have to put inclusion atop everyone’s agenda.
  • Eradicating Disinformation. We’ve seen an erosion in the past four years of unbiased reporting and an emergence of news outlets – such as One America News and Newsmax – that are to the right of Fox News and are fanning the flames of disinformation. Trust is shaky on both sides of the partisan divide with only 2 in 5 Americans having a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the mass media to report fully, accurately and fairly. As I write this, the president is still claiming victory, and as recently as yesterday, attempting to overturn the election. The Biden-Harris administration MUST assume responsibility to ensure truth in journalism, and make it difficult for the massive spread of disinformation without penalty.
  • Evolving tribalism. Lastly, the incoming administration has to be cognizant that while Biden and Harris won with the most votes in presidential election history, the Trump and Pence ticket lost with the second most votes in history. This means that many more people, for a myriad of reasons, are now engaged in the process of how they want the nation to be run. Finding common ground across the Democratic and Republican tribes to create a new “American” north star: a grander vision that unites us, is necessary for our nation’s healing.

O say can you see a nation that looks a little like you? And that is truly indivisible? With liberty and justice for all? I can, and I pray we get there soon.