Joe Biden, Democratic Paternalism, Right Wing Opportunism and the Concerns of Black Voters!

Disclosure. As a native of Delaware, I grew up with Joe Biden as my senator for a large portion of my youth. He was immensely popular. Moreover, we are both graduates of the University of Delaware. Joe Biden was a member of the class of 1965. I was a graduate of the class of 1990'. I earned my Master’s degree in 1992. Thus, there is a commonality and a shared degree of affinity and pride that exists in having a fellow alumni achieve such an astounding degree of political success. Salute to Joe Biden!

Phenomenal accomplishments aside, Joe Biden’s propensity for verbal gaffes has continued during a May 22nd interview on “The Breakfast Club,” a popular millennial radio program.

For all of you who have a low, very little, or no tolerance for or interest in politics, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee found himself mired in controversy when he made the comment “If you have trouble figuring out if you are voting for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”

Yep! There you have it! It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that such a flippant remark would invite more than a minimal level of response. Predictably, Twitter, in particular Black Twitter, came in full force, lambasting the former Vice President for his flippant comments. Joe Biden then admittedly referred to his comments as cavalier and apologized hours later.

Not surprisingly, many on the right, including Black conservatives, forfeited no time in taking Biden to task for his remarks. Such crass, opportunistic behavior was also met with scorn nad backlash from other conservaitves. In fact, The Texas Tribune, one of the most popular conservative newspapers in the nation, posted a who’s who of prominent Black right-wingers who have aggressively attacked Biden. Some went even further and chided the Democratic Party for what they saw as its brazenly paternalistic attitude toward Black Americans.

The Trump campaign, never to let an opportunity to stoke the fires of racial discord go to waste, has begun selling “You Ain’t Black” T-shirts. Given the often-24/7 litany of racially inflected messages that are promoted by more than a few politically right-wing websites, such behavior is the height of hypocrisy.

To be sure, not all Black folk decided to call Biden out for his off-the-cuff commentary. Former Maryland Representative Donna Edwards, Washington Post columnists Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Capehart, cultural critic Toure and Charlemagne tha God himself came to the battered and beleaguered former Vice President’s defense. South Carolina Representative and fiercely loyal Biden supporter Jim Clyburn and Symone Sanders, senior political officials for the Biden campaign, also vigorously defended the beleaguered politician.

Ignorant comments aside, I have serious problems with anyone, including other Black people, passing judgment on a person’s blackness. There is no shortage of men and women across racial lines who are often all-too-eager to ascribe labels such as sort-of-Black, authentically Black, benignly Black, not Black at all, and so on. For many people, anxiety, oppression, pride, resentment, anger, boldness, resistance, and other emotions are often commonplace. It can be a harrowing and potentially embittering experience. This is also related to an entirely different article that I have written about on the subject of blackness. The more immediate issue here is how Democratic operatives can successfully assemble a coalition of voters willing to cast their ballots for Joe Biden in November.

Biden may very well have intended for his comments to be humorous (they fell dreadfully flat). Corny humor tends to be quickly forgotten and, for the most part, people move on to more immediate and pressing issues directly impacting their lives. For many voters of color, particularly Black voters, health care, police brutality, unemployment, voter suppression, lack of access to quality education, student loan debt, clean water, racism, racial and economic disparities, targeting systemic and systematic racism, environmental racism, potentially securing reparations etc… are factors that have a more direct impact on their lives.

While Biden has managed to secure a sizable percentage of middle-aged and older Black voters, he has struggled to command the support and allegiance of many younger Black Generation X’ers, millennials, and older post-millennials. These are groups that have viewed the possible 46th President of the United States with a jaundiced, if not outright weary, eye. They will likely be voting for the first time in unprecedented numbers in November 2020. Moreover, they have been none too hesitant about throwing some seriously blinding shade toward Mr. Biden.

While Biden may be seen as far more palatable to Black voters (especially older Black voters) than Donald Trump (and he undoubtedly is), the fact remains that his record in regard to race is far from pristine. More than a few of us of a certain age are well aware of:

· His shabby treatment of Anita Hill during the Hill/Thomas hearings

· His staunch opposition to school busing

· The 1994 Crime Bill (in all fairness, many Black Democratic legislators supported it)

· His close relationships with segregationist senators like James Eastland and Strom Thurmond, whom he eulogized in 2003

There are other concerns as well. Thus, comments like his most recent one do not sit well nor help his cause with those Black voters on the fence regarding his candidacy. Barack Obama’s endorsement notwithstanding.

Black women, the group that has unquestionably been the most loyal supporters to the Democratic party, delivering 94% of their votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and continuing to loyally submit their ballots for Democratic candidates in 2018, have become increasingly vocal in their expectations. Such demands were evident in a letter recently signed by more than 200+ Black women strongly suggesting that Joe Biden select a Black woman as his running mate. Truth be told, this latest gaffe may make such a request much more likely.

Historian, public speaker, and cultural critic Elwood Watson, Ph.D., is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers.

Elwood Watson

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