written by Valerie Morales
Joe Biden has emerged from the benevolent Obama shadow with mixed results. Harming himself with a series of self-inflicted wounds, Biden has gone from DNC savior to aging politician who is hostile to apologies. Biden had to walk back his approval of the Hyde Amendment to appease pro-choice women. Cast as a segregationist’s friend, he withered under the prosecutorial cross examination of Kamala Harris, during the first primary debate. When Harris expressed her torment and rejection by anti-black whites, Biden minimized her trauma with a calculated silence he withdrew years earlier when he verbally humiliated Anita Hill.
Joe Biden is not transcendent. Barack Obama redeemed him from a career in stagnation. The Anita Hill debacle and plagiarism charges were pitiable parts of his resume. Obama gave Biden legitimacy and racial cover that has shielded Biden from a deeper appraisal, particularly a past in which he made kinships with anti-black zealots. The question has never been about Biden’s racist behavior, but it is about the racism of the people who he presents as dear to him, like defiant racist Strom Thorman, who Biden delivered a eulogy for. Loving a segregationist is not criminal but the intimacy carries a political debt Biden doesn’t want to accept.
A few days ago, when writer Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke in front of Congress about reparations, a stirring five minute speech, he mentioned the electrocution of George Stinney Jr. and the blinding of Isaac Woodard, names unfamiliar to many whites but names that are symbolic of the bill segregation forced black families to pay.
George Stinney Jr was convicted of murdering two white girls. He was a South Carolinian, a 14 year old. Isaac Woodard was murdered by a police chief in a hateful southern town, beaten because he didn’t say Yes sir, but only said Yes. His eyes were then gouged out, blood dripping all the way down his military uniform.
What do the cases of Stinney Jr and Woodard have to do with Joe Biden? The atrocities happened in his lifetime and the cultural response was one of disassociation. The perpetrators were racists infected by the story segregationists tell about whiteness and purity. Biden is sentimental towards the storyteller despite the verbal vomit relentlessly spewed about blacks and inferiority that seeps into the marrow of angry white folk. They perpetrate horrific crimes in the name of such venom. One thing begets another, and so on and so forth.
Biden’s racialized intentions are speculative and, frankly, irrelevant. It’s his friends and neighbors that influence their friends and neighbors generationally. That Biden doesn’t understand the basic subtlety of how the racist behavior of one infects the trauma of many is evidence he doesn’t understand the complexity of black in America except: Vote for me. I’m Obama’s friend.
It seems that in the minds of many white liberals, we should all be celebrating the fact that most of us are not physically in chains. White supremacy wants you to look at four hundred years of uninterrupted racial terror and conclude- things aren’t so bad. (Dr. Crystal M. Fleming)
My mother has photograph of Joe Biden in the family home. He is with his wife Jill and they are standing next to Michelle and Barack Obama. The photograph is hanging on a wall just above a photograph of my mother’s grandchildren. It is not Biden’s presence that has the photograph hanging on my mother’s wall but Barack and Michelle Obama. All were in a pew at Washington National Cathedral. My mother worked there as Canon to the Ordinary before she retired. The photograph captures my mother in her vestments walking down the aisle and passing the pew of the Obamas and Bidens. The trick of photography makes it seem as if my mother is standing in the row with them instead of in the procession. It is an illusion of light.
Joe Biden is an illusion of light.
In a quotidian moment that affirmed the immorality of the racist Southerner, Biden referred to busing as a “liberal train wreck”. His flirtation with segregationists to appease a constituency that wanted action from him was calculated but added to his reputation as weak during conflict. Busing was, in Biden-speak, a train wreck because whites would be forced against their will. It was a train wreck because whites would be damaged by contact with black children. It was a train wreck because white privilege is never forced to give something up.
Southerners like George Wallace and Northerners like Joe Biden were the same problem but different geography. Segregational policies for school children were raced based, one superior, the other inferior. The Department of Education was fed up with the both of them, particularly racist enablers like Biden who clothed himself in an air of superiority over the south when in fact he embraced segregation similarly. The Department of Education had enough of the stalling and forced mandatory busing in Wilmington. It created venom and anger and pushed the Joe Biden white voter to the brink of insanity, lashing out predictably. My kid ain’t going to school with niggers. Biden was swept up in their fervor.
He referred to busing as an asinine concept. Black contact afflicted his white constituents with a dystopian death like cancer inflicts upon the non-sick a traumatic death. Whites like Biden believed the concept of busing was a punitive concession to America’s black problem, a problem that needed no remedy. Overreactions altered white spaces and lessened the agency of white men in the world.
Instead of federal mandated busing, Biden supported the less aggressive incoherent tactic of “address root causes in our schools and communities to change the way in which neighborhoods were segregated.” It wasn’t savvy but it was the best thing he could come up with short of the truth. White privilege is why neighborhoods are segregated. It’s nothing Biden and his colleagues ever wanted to discuss, dismantle, or address.
In Chicago on Friday, Biden was disgusted about what Kamala Harris unearthed in her debate attack. Therein is the toxic masculinity Biden exposes from time to time, the how dare she bring up my past?
The past is rich with epistolary prologue. Biden wasn’t opposed on principle when Trump’s raping past was discovered and then ascribed as a character flaw. Or, when Kamala Harris was skewered by the media for giving a cop killer life in prison instead of the death penalty. Or, when Beto O’Rourke got a DUI and just paid a fine, no jail time. Or, when Pete Buttigieg demoted the black police chief when he was first elected mayor of South Bend. Or, when Elizabeth Warren was a Republican and then she became a Democrat. The rules for everyone else are not the rules for Biden. That defines privilege, beautifully and sadly.
Tennessee Williams was spot on. The past is never really past.
The Scottsboro boys were railroaded in the 1930’s. The Central Park 5 were railroaded in the 1990’s. Blacks had their votes disenfranchised during Jim Crow. Georgia blacks had their votes taken in 2018. Schools were segregated in 1940. Schools are segregated now.
How are we supposed to forget when the past keeps creeping up on us in catastrophic ways?
In 1986 Biden said, “people have tremendous difficulty accepting how could I be for civil rights and against busing. I’ve always viewed my role, what I’ve done best in the Senate, as one of the guys who kept the pendulum in the middle.”
But we don’t vote for presidents in the middle. We want bold and audacious leaders. Biden’s inability to respond to Kamala Harris about his busing record and his intimacy with segregationists doesn’t give confidence he would be able to handle all the flotsam Donald Trump would toss at his head. His record is his record and it conflates segregation with decent men instead of segregation with cruelty and anguish that ruined black people’s lives.
All politicians function from a huge super ego that vaults their careers, but Biden wasn’t an activist. He didn’t care that young kids were being murdered in Vietnam by the N. Vietnamese. He was a privileged kid self absorbed in his middle class life who had ideas and candor and ambition.
When he gave the eulogy for Strom Thurmond, he said of the virulent racist who weaponized his anti-black rhetoric, Thurmond was “a man who lived by his principles and a man who has gotten all of us to understand what they are.”
His principles: Thurmond called civil rights laws dangerous. He ran for president as a response to President Truman desegregating the military. He said “I wanna tell you ladies and gentleman, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” Thurmond didn’t vote for the Voting Rights Act. Thurmond said of Thurgood Marshall before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court “he displayed an ignorance on basic constitutional principles.” Celebratory racial injustice was a Southern construct Strom Thurmond washed his bones in.
But Biden saw him as principled. That was in 2003. Not 40 years ago. Just 5 years before he was Barack Obama’s running mate. He said Thurmond had moved to the good side. It was predictably vain of Biden to present racial hatred as a side, like a box has a side. Just turn the racist over and see his goodness. Biden ignored Thurmond’s past as he is asking us to ignore his and I suppose he is being consistent but it’s fallacious reasoning. Character is who you are in adversity, when things get a little dicey. When there is momentum to seize the moment, have dignity, speak truth no matter who it offends, be moral in the world.
Eloquence eludes him. Under stress, Biden betrayed a segment of his coalition, turned his back on their history, absolved it because he won’t accept there are men who look like him who hate other men who don’t look like him. Biden’s charismatic schtick is a narrow scope, look at the good and ignore the cuel, whiten racism, or more succinctly, whitewash the racist, and deliver a denouement that- oppression, cruelty, bigotry- is a thing of the past. Biden wants to talk about men with good hearts, because he is still that 1970’s politician that doesn’t want to offend his white working class base.
But then, he offends those who do not look like him. The dead and the alive.