Former Vice President Joe Biden made his Breakfast Club debut Friday morning in an interview that centered around issues disproportionately impacting black Americans. But the conversation became heated when Breakfast Club Host Charlamagne the God challenged the presumptive Democratic nominee on his dedication to the black community. Biden’s frustration was palpable; so much of his political persona has been built on his geniality and sincerity, particularly to black voters during the Obama years and beyond. But his attempt to prove his commitment to black Americans—as well-meaning as it may have been—led to him reciting tired stereotypes and altering his voice to sound more “down” for black audiences, a distracting move that threatened to render any salient point he was making moot.
Biden dominated the conversation, starting with the carnage that the covid-19 pandemic has inflicted on black Americans... while speaking with an unmistakable blaccent.
“We have to address the institutional racism,” Biden said. “In a black majority county, they’re six times more likely to die in the pandemic than a white county. They’re disproportionately uninsured in the African-American community, disproportionately make up essential jobs that they can’t do at home, risking their lives every day. Enough is enough.”
Biden said that his recovery plan will “build a better future,” while pointing out his popularity among black voters, touting his history as a public defender and his time working in “the projects.”
But when Charlemagne mentioned the 1994 Crime Bill that Biden championed and its negative impact on black Americans, Biden went into defense mode. “The Crime Bill didn’t increase mass incarceration, other things increased mass incarceration,” Biden said. “If you go back and look... the vast majority of the [Congressional Black Caucus] supported the crime bill, almost every major city black mayor supported the Crime Bill, because blacks were getting killed overwhelmingly as well.”
Support of a discriminatory bill from black mayors does not justify its passage, and black support for the bill was often coupled with calls for other strong social reforms that didn’t materialize. As noted in a 2016 New York Times op-ed looking back at black support for the Crime Bill, the situation was a little more nuanced than black-people-supported-the-Crime Bill-too:
Policy makers pointed to black support for greater punishment and surveillance, without recognizing accompanying demands to redirect power and economic resources to low-income minority communities. When blacks ask for better policing, legislators tend to hear more instead.
Biden exemplified this very problem when he continued to defend the bill, lauding its inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act and the assault weapons ban and distancing himself from its three-strikes policy and mandatory sentences. Biden said that, “on balance,” the bill reduced violence in black communities, which he suggests is good enough.
This segued into Biden describing the prison population in America.
“There are only a couple things everybody has in common in jail,” Biden said. “One is, they were victims of abuse or their mother was; number two, can’t read; number three, they don’t have any job skills, they were in a position where they didn’t get a chance.”
Biden could have described the plight of inmates—most coming from low-income backgrounds, and more susceptible to issues like lower literacy rates—in a less brusque, hamhanded way. But he carried on, explaining why he supports formerly incarcerated people have access to public housing, pell grants, health care, and other.
“Why so much resistance on admitting the crime bill and other legislation you were a part of was damaging to the black community, “Charlamagne asked, noting that when Hillary Clinton was on their show, she wanted to atone for the crime bill
“She was wrong,” Biden said, adding that the crime bill wasn’t a problem, but rather tough drug sentences. But the crime bill also encouraged police to carry out more drug arrests.
Biden’s inability to own up to mistakes—whether about the crime bill or deportations during the Obama administration—does not make Biden look tough, it makes him look petulant. Owning up to the unfortunate consequences of the 1994 crime bill is not a weakness, and if anything it’ll help divert the ability of President Trump’s re-election campaign to exploit the racist repercussions of the crime bill and attract jaded black voters.
The conversation meandered about technicalities over sentencing, drug rehabilitation, and the like, until the topic of Biden’s running mate came up. Charlemagne noted that people on social media weren’t happy that Senator Amy Klobuchar was being vetted for the role, and pointed out a Washington Post op-ed that argues why Biden needs a black woman as a running mate. Biden refused to offer more details about his VP search while his handler insisted that Biden had run out of time.
But Biden made sure he signed off on a deeply cringe-worthy note: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, you ain’t black!”
Black Americans have more to lose under another four years of Trump, but perhaps one’s blackness-quota isn’t Biden’s call to make.
Someone, please, tighten Biden’s muzzle.