When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took the stage at the US presidential inauguration, I felt a surge of relief and excitement. Here was a president who shows moral leadership and compassion. Beside him was the first female, black and Indian vice-president. It felt like a historical moment. It left me in awe.
As a black Bermudian-American, I know first hand the brutality of US racism and how that racism has been emboldened over the past four years. But now change is in sight. Last year, when I read on my smartphone that the presidential election results had been called officially, I yelled with joy.
That same thrill at the possibility of renewal runs through many other Americans I know. One friend, a black mother of three who lives in a small town in Tennessee, told me that she cried when Ms Harris first spoke publicly as vice-president elect. It felt, my friend said, like a message to her own children, one that carried “an overwhelming sense of excitement and joy about what was to come.” But now Mr Biden and Ms Harris have to define that future, and deliver it.
To me, a Biden presidency represents a return to reason in the US, especially for people of colour. It means we have a good shot at getting real work done to rebuild our communities. It means better life chances for black people and real hope for a more equitable future.
For four tumultuous years, the country has been sprayed with racist tweets from a racist president who downplayed or ignored issues affecting the black community — most especially how black people are more likely to die in the hands of the police than white people and have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. People of colour are up to twice as likely to catch Covid-19 than white people and up to three times more likely to die, according to official statistics. Far more businesses owned by black, Hispanic and Asian people have also closed during lockdown. This has to change.
“Racial and societal issues were provoked during the Trump presidency and now is not the time to revert” to business as usual, one cousin, a young black female entrepreneur in Mr Biden’s home state of Delaware, told me. “With this new president and vice-president, it’s time for us to truly come together and push the envelope of change much further and to push for reparations — however that may look,” she added.
I think she is right to push for investment in the black community. This presidency cannot simply be a continuation of past Democratic administrations. We’ve been through too much. We are past that point.
If Mr Biden and Ms Harris are to retain strong support from black voters over the next four years, they must put their money where their mouths were during the campaign. They must put in place specific policies that lift up the black community. They must go further than Barack Obama. Despite being the first black president, he was able to implement few lasting policy changes on racial issues. With Democratic control of Congress and plans to “build back better”, there is a sense of promise in the air. But there is also a sense of high expectations.
Poet laureate Amanda Gorman made that clear: “We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”
Of course, Mr Biden wasn’t born yesterday. Having trumpeted his “lift every voice” and “build back better” plans for black people and other Americans of colour, he knows he must deliver. He has also been warned that he cannot take black voters for granted, as the Democratic party has long done. Although more than 90 per cent of black voters backed Mr Biden, Donald Trump slightly improved his standing with them from 2016.
That shift is just one of the spectres Mr Trump leaves behind to haunt the Biden administration. The new president and his team know if they don’t get the next four years right, another demagogue could emerge from the shadows to take control.
For now, though, there is a mandate for change and a chance for hope. If Mr Biden and Ms Harris take their promises to heart, their political machine must also actively support the people who voted them in.