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Christian Cooper America must deal with its racial bias, starting at the top. That's why I'm backing Joe Biden.

The leader of a country sets the tone for its people. It time for a president who has the capacity for growth and change, so we can heal and evolve.
Image: Christian Cooper in New York's Central Park on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.  (Brittainy Newman/The New York Times)
Christian Cooper in New York's Central Park on May 27, 2020.Brittainy Newman / The New York Times via Redux

No one was more surprised than me when a run-of-the-mill confrontation between me — an African American man bird-watching in Central Park — and a white woman whose dog was illegally off its leash suddenly took a dark turn. It startled me that she would try to manipulate racial bias to get her way. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, she was just taking her cue from the highest office in the land.

I didn’t vote for the current occupant of the White House, but after the dust settled in 2016, I hoped that he would grow into the office. Instead, we’ve seen him diminish the presidency and our standing in the world. We’ve seen him erode our vital institutions, such as a free press and strong labor unions, and undermine science and the basic concept of truth. He has dismantled environmental protections, retreated on civil rights and LGBTQ rights, betrayed our nation’s immigrant tradition and coarsened our public discourse. He has pilfered taxpayers for his own personal profit, stifled efforts to get more Americans voting and, perhaps worst of all, divided Americans every chance he gets. When the mistreatment of Black and brown people in this country has cried out for justice and healing, he has given a wink and a nod to white nationalists — and to anyone who decides to try to weaponize race just to get what they want.

There’s a lot of work to do to address deep-seated racial bias in our country. It’s the kind of bias that leads white residents to gun down a black man for the audacity of going jogging and to call it self-defense, or that leaves a white police officer thinking it’s OK to kneel on a black man’s neck for more than eight minutes or that brings an irate white owner of a dog to presume she could summon the law down on a black man’s head with special vengeance.

We all have a role in that work to address racial bias, but the president of the United States sets the tone.

That’s why I’m supporting Joe Biden.

It’s not Biden’s years of experience that make him my choice — though his readiness for the job would be a refreshing change. And to all those who say we need an outsider to shake things up, I say only, “How’s that working out for you so far?”

It’s not that I agree with every position Biden has taken over his long and storied career; I don’t think there’s a candidate alive with whom I agree 100 percent of the time. If you dig back far enough in the past of anyone who has dedicated their life to public service, you’ll always find gaffes, missteps or something to make you wince.

It’s not even the complete confidence I have that Biden will surround himself with competence — no more hacks, shilling for the same industries they’re meant to regulate. A Biden administration would be packed with smart people of all colors and kinds, as dedicated to serving the country as the man at the top.

But while all of that is true, it’s not why I’m backing Biden.

What makes Biden special, and uniquely suited to this moment, is his capacity for growth. I’ve seen his understanding of our country evolve over the years to meet new challenges. His own personal story of tragedy and then triumph in his family life wouldn’t be possible for someone who couldn’t take pain and forge something new from it. It shows a capacity to heal, to learn, to evolve, to overcome.

And that’s what our country is so badly crying out for today; that’s what we have to do as a nation.

If that capacity to learn, grow and change isn’t what’s called for in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — as well as the deaths of tens of thousands of Black and brown Americans bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis today — then what is? This country needs to heal, to evolve and to overcome.

I have watched the presidency shrink over the last three and a half years to the point that, despite all the boasts and preening self-accolades, it’s making our whole country smaller. We need to grow again.

I’m eager for a world where the president of the United States actually leads, with a big heart and a big vision. I'm eager for a world where he leads us all — Black, white, Asian, LatinX, Native, immigrant, straight, LGBTQ, and every gender and configuration of our American family — to a place where the pain of this moment has been forged into a fair, bright future. I’m eager for a president who’ll nurture his capacity for growth in our nation itself.

That’s why I support Joe Biden.