Posted on November 16, 2020

A Memo to President-Elect Biden: Don’t Coddle White Racial Anxieties

Andre M. Perry, Brookings Institution, November 12, 2020

As soon as media outlets called the presidential election in favor of Joe Biden, political commentators began pontificating on the need to unify and heal a deeply divided country. {snip}

Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud demonstrate that in order to heal the country, we must be clear about what’s really dividing us: racism.


But when many politicians and pundits talk about healing a divided nation, they create false equivalencies between the supposed “radical left” and historic white supremacist organizations. This will not set the table for understanding, nor will coddling the “white rage” that is often mischaracterized as economic anxiety. Healing isn’t about giving people more time to make themselves ready to accept policies that advance racial equity.

Liberals and conservatives aren’t necessarily divided by their respective political philosophies; the wedge is racism. {snip}

{snip} After the 2016 election was called in favor of Trump, it didn’t take long for analysts to declare that Democrats needed to better understand and empathize with rural voters and the working class—as if there are no Black and brown working-class people living in small towns. What’s destructive about these takes is the unstated assumption that the country can’t heal if white Americans aren’t accommodated first.

If Biden is to truly heal a divided country, he should not coddle white racial anxieties rooted in a perceived loss of status and privilege. Policy should not be built on how it may assuage or enflame these pathologies. Americans—particularly those who are Black, Native American, Asian American, and Latino or Hispanic—have little use for policymaking that’s distracted by the threat of a racist backlash. Being a president to all Americans means not centering white grievances rooted in false notions of superiority.


The recent calls for unity shouldn’t confuse us. Racism isn’t to be negotiated with; it’s to be scrubbed from our policies. Certainly, all Americans must have a say, and the president must acknowledge every voice. However, giving attention to the perceived loss of racial superiority isn’t going to heal a divided country. That can only come by dismantling the racist policies that built up such division in the first place.