The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee recently said in an interview to an African-American host that those in the black community who can’t pick the better candidate between him and Donald Trump “ain’t black”. The remark received wide criticism. But does Biden really find himself electorally endangered for saying what he said?
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has not found the run-up to the November 3 presidential election smooth. Even though the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for him to compete with a powerful rival in incumbent Donald Trump who has struggled to deal with the crisis, there have been other instances of challenges being thrown at the former vice president. While the sexual-assault charge brought by a former Senator aide, Tara Reade is one of them, the other has been Biden’s own creation: telling an African-American radio host “you ain’t black” if he, as a representative of the community, could not pick the better candidate between him and Trump.
Watch: How Biden’s ‘you ain’t black’ comment unfolded
Biden’s utterance was met with a severe backlash. He was slammed as racially insensitive and taking the voters for granted. The Trump campaign did not waste time in making the most out of it. Black Republicans and Trump supporters blasted the 77-year-old saying his mask was off and the ugly truth was out. Biden later apologized to the African-American traders’ body and said he never takes black voters for granted and should not have been “so cavalier”. In the Democratic camp, too, the take was divided. While some felt it was an “embarrassing” thing, others thought things were okay once Biden apologized.
It is not too surprising to see controversial words coming out of Biden’s mouth. Democratic presidential candidates have traditionally banked on black voters in primaries and banked heavily. This year, too, Biden’s incredible turnaround in the presidential race happened after black voters backed him in South Carolina in late February after the influential endorsement of James Clyburn. He went on to win a series of states on Super Tuesday to eventually put the race beyond his closest competitor Bernie Sanders.
The African-American support also saw him prevailing over other black candidates in the fray, like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. As a former deputy to the US’ only African-American president in Barack Obama and a politician with an established record, Biden is likely to be seen by the African American community as the most trusted figure to beat Trump in this year’s election. Biden’s complacency threatens to mar that trust. There is no denying that the former VP could have put things in a better way. Many drew a parallel between his remark and that made by Trump in August 2019:
“I think if you vote for a Democrat, you are very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people.”
Trump clarified later that it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
For the sake of being ‘politically correct’
It isn’t clear if Biden meant deliberate racial mockery. However, the political strategy of generalization and ignoring the (political) diversity to score a point over the opponent has a history of hurting politicians. While Trump is fortunate to have established his position as a post-truth politician who gains by not being politically correct, Biden is a traditional leader whose words are taken at face value. Being a representative of the liberal camp, the former VP is far less able in adopting a similar strategy. Biden wasn’t careful enough to be politically correct when saying ‘you ain’t black’ to Charlamagne Tha God. Consequently, he faced the bulldozer.
It is not just a fault, if we may call it, with Biden but the entire Democratic Party since it has become synonymous with issues like civil rights of minorities and progressive reforms. Although historically the Democratic party was pro-slavery. The criticism that Biden has faced included questions over his past record working for the black community. When the interviewer looked into these records, facts from the past popped up — Biden co-authoring the infamous crime bill of 1994. The controversial bill was used as a counter-argument against Biden. But the point is: the African-American community is backing Biden in this year’s election because they feel he is ideologically favorable.
Inside the brain of African American voters
African Americans have little faith left in President Trump’s style of governance. Trump is known as a president who views the African-Americans less honorably than the Whites. His relentless attacks on Obama have also not helped the Republican cause. The current pandemic has also had a disproportionate effect on African-Americans, a point Obama recently made. In January, a Washington Post/Ipsos poll found that more than 80 percent of black Americans consider Trump racist, and two-thirds believe it is a “bad time” to be black in America.
In 2007, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was doing better among the African-Americans compared to a less-known Obama till he turned the tables around the following year in the first contest in the primary cycle: Iowa. So, it is also conclusive from Hillary’s early lead over Obama in the presidential race in 2008 that the black community doesn’t just consider a black candidate to vote for. Again this year, Biden, despite once locking horns with Harris on the issue of school busing, eventually beat the California senator in the race for the nomination. Factors like experience matter, sometimes even more than racial identity or gender.
Biden’s ‘black’ moment is unlikely to last. But given his own gaffe-prone nature, it could be a matter of time before Biden steals the limelight with another controversy. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Biden would lose a big chunk of his voters because of remarks made to Charlamagne Tha God. Just like those several Democrats, including women, who have chosen to ignore Reade’s rape charge against Biden, the African-American community is largely expected to favour the former VP. The more important thing, for most of them, is to see the end of Trump. Everything else can wait.