by Valerie Morales
In large numbers, African Americans will go to the polls in South Carolina. Will they grant Joe Biden’s floundering campaign a boost on the last day of Black History Month? Probably. If it happens, and all signs point to a huge yes, Joe Biden will have saved himself because a group of civil rights stalwarts is loyal to him for no other reason than he reminds them that Barack Obama once ran the country. It’s this clinging to one part of the past- the Obama years- and ignoring another- Biden’s disorganization, mixed messages, and apathy- that keeps black people in a box, one that the Democratic Party manipulates every four years. Black people in bondage used to be loyal to their slave owners. Now, they are loyal to those who use them for their own self-interests.
In the last Democratic primary, Biden did not run. When South Carolina voters were asked to cast their ballots in 2016, Bernie Sanders was crushed. Hillary Clinton won 73% of the vote and a stunning 175,000 more votes than Sanders. Sanders's weakness in the 2016 primary was his Southern strategy, meaning he had none. Four years later, he has improved with a ground game but what Sanders is fighting against is Southern history, or like Billie Holiday sang “strange fruit.”
Southern trees bear a strange fruit/blood on the leaves and blood on the root/Black Bodies swinging in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Sanders hasn’t grown his black support in four years and for a multitude of reasons. The nucleus of Southern Democrats is a black woman between the ages of 45–70. I know my share of southern black women in that age range and I don’t know one who voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, nor any who are leaning toward Sanders in 2020. His message doesn’t travel well enough in the South because as passionate as he is talking about economic justice he is curiously silent talking about racial justice, police brutality, reparations, black excellence, black education. All his arguments are framed within his model of redistribution of wealth. Okay, but racist institutions are why wealth is centered in white privilege spaces. Bernie Sanders doesn’t talk white privilege so many middle-aged black woman shrug.
The Medicare for All fix that Sanders loves to talk about, and with which millennials frame Sanders as heroic, is something that older people are skeptical about because of the lack of details, specifically who is going to pay for it? Taxing the rich in theoretical terms just doesn’t cut it.
Whereas black voters over 45 looks at Sanders suspiciously, (they are frequently apt to say “I can’t stand Bernie Sanders”) the Vermont senator has made inroads with black people under the age of 40. What younger African Americans are feeling directly meshes with what Sanders has been selling for the past 30 years. But the young aren’t the bulk of African American southern voters which puts Sanders in a quagmire. Look at it this way. He’s been in South Carolina for 4 years. And as of today, he is trailing Joe Biden by 25 points in the black vote.
As for Joe. Stylistically, he reminds me of an NBA player named Carlos Boozer. Boozer played college ball at Duke and was a second-round pick. He played the bulk of his career with the Utah Jazz. Boozer was a good player but when the game transitioned towards athletic explosion and three-point shot making Boozer was a man without a country. He no longer fit. The game changed on him.
That’s Biden. This isn’t 2008. We have changed and he hasn’t. He expects to invoke the name Barack Obama as orgasmic rushes of ecstasy glean our faces in dew. Sorry. Barack Obama isn’t walking through that door. Biden likes to talk about beating Donald Trump as if that makes him spectacularly unique in a field where everyone says the same thing. His opponents, at least, have a plan for the possibility that they will beat Donald Trump. I can’t figure out why Biden even wants to be president. He doesn’t seem to hunger for the job. He’s not thirsty.
But black magic and South Carolina loyalty will put him over the top in the first Southern state primary. If you are the kind of person that is too lazy to think critically, then I guess it matters that Biden was Obama’s wingman. That they partnered up. But the truth is Obama rescued Biden from the scrapheap.
Biden ran for President in the ’80s and had to pull out when it was discovered he had plagiarized and inflated his academic record. (He said he finished in the top-10 of his law school class at Syracuse. He finished 76th). He embarrassed himself with his attack on Anita Hill. He voted for the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994 which incentivized black incarceration and it also crippled prison college education programs. Biden has always found a way to say the wrong thing, like when he said in 2006 “You cannot go to a 7–11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” About Barack Obama, he said, “You got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Uh-no. 88 years before Barack Obama 2008 my grandfather, a Univ. of Michigan educated civil engineer, was articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.
Quick story. After FDR died, a train carried his body from Warm Springs Georgia to Washington D.C. Hundreds lined the route. At one southern stop, a 60ish man was weeping uncontrollably. He couldn’t be consoled by various onlookers. Finally, after the train went on the man gathered himself. He was then asked by a witness “did you know him? Did you know the President personally?” The Georgian shook his head, still unable to speak. He shook all over. Finally, he spoke. “No ma’am. No, I didn’t know him. But he knew me. He knew me.”
How many can say that about Joe Biden, that he knows me? How can he know me, a black woman, when he gleeful eviscerated a black woman’s sexual harassment truth. He was friends with a predatory rapist, Strom Thurmond. So, how can he know my fears and nervousness and racial pain? How can he know me when he willingly opposed school integration, a vehicle used to help remedy institutionalized racism in the educational system. Biden doesn’t know me. Sanders doesn’t know me either but he’s not supposed to know black me. He’s a socialist and not a FOB (friend of Barack).
Rep. Jim Clyburn wants black folk to think that Biden does [know us] but the next time Biden talks about reparations will be the first time. I’m still waiting for him to address the overly incarcerated like Juan Rayford Jr, sentenced to 11 life sentences for the killing of no one. How about the effects of gentrification. Or climate change on inner-city communities. And the rash of racism during the Trump era. No such thing has left Biden’s lips. But his cup runneth over with black loyalty.
The more the campaign goes on, the more Biden comes off as an old man. He struggled with crowds in Iowa. He was irrelevant in New Hampshire. South Carolina will give him breathing room but he’s not winning California because he just hasn’t been there to campaign. It’s hard to have a ground game when there is no money. A few Super Tuesday states have Biden competitive but it has nothing to do with him but the black women who are loyal to a myth.
To a large group of African Americans Biden is what is known as “our kind of people”. Factor out the Anita Hill debacle and his support of the crime bill, Biden hasn’t hurt us in the grand and racist ways of other white politicians, who only come running to our neighborhoods and churches every four years, Biden doesn’t have a search and frisk on his record. But he doesn’t have much of a record with black entrepreneurs and business owners either, unlike Michael Bloomberg. He doesn’t have empathy for single mother's financial stress, Elizabeth Warren does. There isn’t a Biden healthcare plan other than protecting Obamacare.
It is times like these that I miss Kamala Harris. She should be feted by the black loyalists in South Carolina and not Joe Biden. Kamala is more us than anyone on that debate stage. She graduated from an HBCU. She’s a member of a black sorority. She represents and fights for black excellence. However, she never figured out how to balance her mass incarceration past with her future dreams and she pulled out the race way too early. That left middle-aged and older African Americans without much of a choice but to pick up Joe Biden crumbs.
And crumbs they are.