Watson: Biden’s Record on Race Is No Laughing Matter

Christian Watson is a political writer based out of Georgia and a Young Voices Advocate. He can be found on Twitter at @OfficialCWatson. He also hosts a podcast titled, “Pensive Politics.”

While Americans struggle with the economic and social fallout of COVID-19 and slowly transition back to normalcy, former Vice President Joe Biden is safely in his Delaware basement, lecturing black Americans like me about their political preferences.

During an interview with the popular urban radio show “The Breakfast Club,” he aggressively quipped to host Charlamagne Tha God that if African Americans have trouble deciding between him and Trump, they “ain’t black.” Oh, please. 

Shortly after political anger descended upon the presidential candidate, he quickly apologized for being too much of a “wise guy.” Jonathan Capehart, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, whole-heartedly agreed, using the common refrain used to cover for irresponsible behavior: It was just a joke. But there’s nothing funny about Biden’s record on race-related issues, which include disparaging remarks toward African-Americans and other minorities, the general use of race as a political toy, and legislation that has devastated minorities. Understanding Biden’s past is of utmost importance. Biden’s “cavalier” remarks, as he labels them, must be taken in light of his record.

For instance, during a rally in Danville, North Carolina in 2012, Biden told an African American audience that Republicans would put them “back in chains” with their financial policies. Demonizing your political opponents by likening them to slave-era political actors, especially as a public official as well-known as Biden, is simply unethical. Furthermore, in a speech in Iowa, he said that “poor kids were just as bright as white kids.” Yikes.

Biden’s list of gaffes goes on and on and on and on (but unlike Queen of Neo Soul Erykah Badu, his cypher is staying put and gathering moss). Now, I don’t mean to suggest Biden is a racist. These gaffes could have been just that — a poor choice of words unique to his common-man political approach. The only person who knows the contents of Biden’s heart is Biden himself. But words do matter. At best, Biden’s gaffes simply reflect an unhealthy attitude toward race, indicative of his era. At worst, they provide voters a window through which to view his past policy decisions that have devastated African Americans.

For example, Biden has been chided by many for both crafting and supporting the crime bill known as the Violent Crime Control And Law Enforcement Act. The bill, which became law in 1994, reflected a strict law-and-order mentality toward criminals. Biden championed the “Three Strikes” provision of the bill, which sentenced individuals to life upon a third offense, provided it’s a “serious violent crime.” 

This bill created a legal environment that allowed mass incarceration to flourish. And black American’s were hurt the most. But to then-Senator Joe Biden in 1993, this was simply the best way to deal with “predators on our streets” who were, in his words, “beyond the pale.” 

During that same 1993 speech, Biden claimed that the root cause of criminal’s actions simply didn’t matter. “It doesn’t matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter…whether or not they were deprived as a youth,” he said. He continued, “I don’t want to ask ‘what made them do this.’ They must be taken off the street.” 

If extenuating circumstances aren’t considered, how do you fix an issue? You don’t. And that’s why Joe Biden’s policies hurt black Americans so gruesomely. Biden’s words shockingly dehumanized people who had run-ins with the law, and paved the way for the retributive attitude toward criminals that plagues the justice system to this day.

And Biden hasn’t changed much in recent years. He’s against marijuana legalization because he claims it’s a “gateway drug,” despite clear evidence to the contrary. Add the fact African-Americans are still disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession, and Biden’s “pro-black” record barely holds up. And the cherry on top? Biden is still unapologetic about the crime bill, attacking critics as being “conditioned to say” the legislation is bad. 

In this time of strained race relations, Joe Biden is simply the wrong man for the job. The untimely deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, along with low African-American confidence in law enforcement, demand a president who can address the lack of confidence in America’s institutions. Joe Biden has been part of the problem for 26 years. He can’t hope to restore it in a measly four.

Next time you hear Biden say you “ain’t black” for being skeptical of his candidacy, remember: You’re plenty black, and you ain’t stupid. 

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