Biden, Racial Justice and a Dream Deferred

June 6, 2020.  Black Lives Matter march in Washington, DC following the police
killing of George Floyd.

"A cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making, moves us.
The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer."

- President Joe Biden, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2021

What happens to a dream deferred?

In 1951, the African American poet Langston Hughes wrote a poem by this name subsequently published in his book titled Harlem. The poem follows.

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

"We can deliver racial justice," President Joe Biden said in his inaugural address. Certainly one has cause to wonder how a constitutional order that has repeatedly failed to provide racial justice and equality for all members of society will now "deliver racial justice."

Biden also refers to Lincoln and the Civil War saying, 

"In another January in Washington, on New Year's Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said -- and I quote -- 'If my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.'

"My whole soul is in it. Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation."

But Lincoln did not deliver, in the sense that the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not emancipate the African Americans enslaved -- they together with workers opposed to slavery did that themselves. As Langston Hughes' colleague W.E.B. Dubois put it, the Civil War and Reconstruction were a general strike and an effort by workers, black and white, south and north, to carry forward the elimination of all enslavement.

January 19, 2021. Flags are set up in front of the Capitol building replacing people for the Biden inauguration.

Biden leaves out that the flowering of democracy that took place during Reconstruction (1865-1877) was brutally crushed by the constitutional order, as has occurred repeatedly since then, including in efforts this past summer. Or that Madison, among the "white men of property" who wrote the Constitution, specifically said it was necessary to design it so that the majority, also called the "mob" or the "propertyless majority," could not gain power. Perhaps this is who Biden was referring to when he said no "riotous mob" could ever "drive us from this sacred ground... It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever." It is a statement that he and the narrow private interests he represents will not cede power to the people, which is what history demands.

The poem by Hughes puts forward that a dream deferred explodes. Perhaps it is this explosion that most worries Biden. He seems to think the large majority accept the limitation of dreams and empty promises when they have shown in action that they are stepping up their organized fight for equality and accountability, as human beings in the here and now.

(Voice of Revolution. Photos: T. Eytan, ajplus)

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 2 - February 7, 2021

Article Link:
Biden, Racial Justice and a Dream Deferred


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