Biden signs executive orders to address US racial equity

Joe Biden has signed four more executive orders aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise he made to increase racial equity in the US.

“What many Americans didn’t see or simply refused to see couldn’t be ignored any longer,” Biden said in a press briefing.

“Those eight minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd’s life opened the eyes to millions of Americans and millions of people all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice and it wouldn’t be forgotten."

Mr Biden said the US and its government "need to change their whole approach to the issue of racial equity," and that while criminal justice reform is necessary it is not sufficient to mend the nation’s deep racial inequities.

" We need to open the promise of America to every American, and that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for anyone department of government. It has to be the business of the whole of government," said Biden.

Speaking at the White House daily briefing, the former Obama national security adviser and UN ambassador Susan Rice said Biden was looking to address some of the intractable problems facing US society. Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Biden promised to help Americans of colour.

“Every agency will place equity at the core of their public engagement, their policy design and delivery,” Rice said, “to ensure that government resources are reaching Americans of colour in all marginalised communities – rural, urban, disabled, LGBTQ+, religious minorities and so many others.

The new orders issued by Biden on Tuesday cover a range of directives, including ordering the Department of Housing and Urban Development to "address historical racism" in federal housing policies.

Other directives include ending new private prison contracts and reinvigorating the federal government's consultations with Native nations.

On Monday night, Senate leaders announced an agreement over the filibuster, the voting threshold which protects minority rights. The deal allowed the new Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to move ahead with preparations for handling Biden’s legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, the fourth Biden order was aimed at fighting xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific islanders.

"Today, I'm directing federal agencies to combat the resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we've seen skyrocket during this pandemic. This is unacceptable and it's un-American," Biden said.

According to a United Nations report released in October, hate crimes against Asian Americans in the US have reached an "alarming" level. The report cites more than 1,800 racist incidents against Asian Americans from March to May 2020.

Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate -- a coalition of advocacy groups that was formed in March 2020 in response to a rise in hate crimes during the pandemic, applauded the executive action.

The coalition said that it was a "brighter moment for Asian Americans" and called on the administration to expand civil rights protections.

The coalition added that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of Asian Americans have reported acts of hate and violence, and the vast majority live in a climate of fear.

"What is most disturbing is that the rising hate was fuelled by racist and xenophobic rhetoric used by the former president and his administration's implementation of a number of policies and efforts to target our communities," the statement said.

Biden has also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to weigh whether to issue guidance “to advance cultural competency” for these groups as part of the administration’s efforts to battle Covid-19.