He tried to be “hip” and took a big hit.
To be clear, President Donald J. Trump is a racist. However, neither he nor his political party, which many often accuse of racism, are alone in having such beliefs. During an interview on nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club with radio host Charlamagne tha God, which aired this past Friday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made a comment so egregious to many in the Black community that #JoeBidenIsARacist became a top trending hashtag on Twitter.
He declared, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t Black!”
See the full interview below, as well as Biden’s egregious comment at time 17:22:
The Breakfast Club usually comprises three Black co-hosts and caters to a predominantly Black audience, which is why many such as Biden often make appearances on there when trying to reach this demographic. The Democratic hopeful’s purpose for interviewing with Charlamagne was to supposedly connect with Black audiences and detail his plans for helping Blacks in the US if he becomes president. Biden primarily spoke throughout this interview, making note of what he felt were his past achievements helping this demographic. He also pushed back when questioned about his supposed role in harming Black communities through his past policies as a politician.
Nevertheless, as Biden’s interview ended, he challenged blackness.
Perhaps Biden’s confidence in the work he has done for social justice reform is what led to him to claim Blacks who support President Trump are not Black enough. Throughout his career, he has strongly supported affirmative action, fought to keep special funding for minority and women-owned businesses, fought to protect voting rights, and, while serving as Vice President for former President Barack Obama, helped champion criminal justice reform. While each has played a role in helping Black people, who as a collective lack access to key resources and are often unfairly targeted and punished by the criminal justice system, Biden has also made choices throughout his political career which many Blacks feel resulted in great harm.
A popular topic often discussed when highlighting Biden’s political record is the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, known to many as the 1994 federal crime bill, that he helped create. This bill was an attempt by Biden, who at the time oversaw the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other Democrats to address crime, particularly violent crime, that had been rising for decades, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 1990s. Over the years since it went into effect, many have accused this bill of contributing to mass incarceration and largely targeting Blacks. Biden, however, has maintained that this is not the case. During his interview with Charlamagne the former Vice President was asked why he is resistant to admit the crime bill was damaging to the Black community. To this, Biden responded “The crime bill didn’t increase mass incarceration. Other things increased mass incarceration.”
Despite the mixed views surrounding the 1994 crime bill, Biden has a history of backing “tough on crime” policies and was once quoted saying, “It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society” as well as “I don’t want to ask, ‘What made them do this?’ They must be taken off the street.” Biden’s past statements are debatable. However, his past attitude on not caring for “the victims of society” was problematic, especially when one considers the role systemic racism plays in criminalizing Black people and encouraging crime within this demographic.
In 2019, Biden put forth a new criminal justice proposal, which would supposedly be endorsed should he become president, focusing on areas such as social support rather than incarceration for those at risk of crime and reform policing. To date, many feel this is new proposal is at odds with the 1994 crime bill, which has led to criticism. For example, US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey tweeted in July of last year the following:
“It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.”
Booker during that time furthermore stated, “Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right” and “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.”
Keep on truckin’
Beyond his tough on crime policies, Biden once led the charge against busing students to desegregate schools during the 1970s. Busing was the practice of bringing Black and White students out of their neighborhoods via buses for the purpose of integrating schools. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw this practice as a more frequently used tool to promote school integration. When Biden ran for the Senate in 1972, he was vocally in favor of integrating American schools and supported busing. However, his position reportedly shifted after he won the election and discovered just how intensely his White constituents opposed busing. Some claim that by 1973 and 1974, Biden tried to toe a careful line by supporting desegregation vocally while voting in favor of policies that opposed busing.
In Biden’s defense, there were some Black people at the time who criticized busing. However, these Blacks wanted to see more investment in Black teachers, schools, and communities as opposed to having Black students sent to schools that were previously all White, which could lead to hostility toward these Black students. Indeed, many Whites opposed busing due to their being uncomfortable with the racial change it brought. Biden touches on this issue in his memoir Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, claiming the practice was “tearing people apart.” Nevertheless, American journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones asserted that while many believe busing was ill conceived or a terrible way of ensuring integration it was primarily used as a tool of last resort, authorized by courts only after extensive battles with state officials and school boards, by both civil rights groups and Black parents, failed to generate even modest integration for Black children. Moreover, there is evidence that school desegregation, often achieved through busing, led to increased resources being given to Black and low-income children.
It is furthermore important to note that during 1975, shortly after protests and riots from residents of Boston, Massachusetts over the city’s desegregation order, Biden supported an amendment introduced by then-Senator of North Carolina Jesse Helms, known as a virulent racist who greatly opposed civil rights legislation and desegregation efforts. This amendment was meant to keep the then-active Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from gathering data on the race of teachers or students and prevent the department from demanding that schools classify teachers or students by race. Helms responded to Biden’s support by welcoming him “to the ranks of the enlightened.”
Helms amendment was defeated. However, Biden later introduced a similar amendment which American historian Jason Sokol wrote stipulated that no funds should be used from the 1975 education bill by school systems to assign students or teachers to schools “for reasons of race.”
Biden’s dealings with Helms would not be the last time he was associated with individuals deemed racist, or those accused of having racist ideologies, in a questionable manner. Last year he was criticized for making light of his dealings with the late James Eastland, described as being a Democratic segregationist senator from Mississippi. At a fundraiser, Biden said, “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’” Supposedly, Biden mentioned this to show how even though he and Eastland, who also reportedly described Blacks as belonging to an “inferior race,” did not share the same ideologies, they managed to work together and remained civil. Some took issue with his attempt at joking about the term “boy,” which has been used as a racial epithet toward Blacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City also expressed disgust with Biden’s comments about Eastland, tweeting the following:
“It’s 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of “civility” typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to “the pursuit of dead n*ggers.””
Biden’s words have come back to haunt him on multiple occasions throughout his time spent in the public eye. For example, many felt he was ignorant and insensitive toward Blacks when making a comment about President Obama in 2007 to a New York Observer reporter. Biden referred to the former president, who at the time was Senator of Illinois and running for office, as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and a clean and a nice-looking guy.” Adding to this, last year Biden said to a group of Hispanic and Asian voters in Iowa the following:
“We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids — wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids. No, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”
Though Biden seemingly caught his mistake, insinuating that whiteness was something everyone should aspire to obtain, many were critical of his initial slip before correcting himself.
Can you dig it?
Suffice to say, Biden has a complex history regarding his dealings with the Black community as well as his attempts at fighting to help protect Blacks. Therefore, the Black community as a collective may not look to the Democratic hopeful as much of an ally. Challenging a Black person’s blackness if they are torn between voting for President Trump or Biden — assuming they are even convinced voting matters at this point — is an insult. Even if Biden’s comments to Charlamagne were made “in jest,” as some claim, it was still inappropriate and uncalled for. One must ask if his choice to make such a remark was an attempt at catering to a Black audience? If this were the case, Biden may have a long journey ahead of him when trying to appease this demographic.
Many Black people for years have struggled with defining blackness and being comfortable in their own skin. A person belonging to an outgroup has no right to say “you ain’t Black!” Would Biden feel comfortable saying “you ain’t Chinese!” to Chinese voters or “you ain’t Hispanic!” to members of the Latinx community? Instead of using his interview with The Breakfast Club to help promote his ideas for helping Blacks in the US, Biden gave this demographic more cause to pause. This is unfortunate given his “Lift Every Voice” plan for Black America. Nevertheless, some have criticized this plan and believe it does not truly cater to Black people.
All things considered, it seems Biden’s efforts to help Blacks “ain’t Black.”