With the hashtag #YouAintBlack trending on Twitter, he has already backpedaled, but that's not enough
In an interview with Charlamagne tha God for Power 105.1's Breakfast Club, presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden appointed himself the arbiter of blackness.
When a prior obligation forced Biden to end the conversation early, Charlamagne pushed for Biden to come back, saying, "It's a long way until November, we got more questions," at which point Biden jumped in with, "You've got more questions? Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."
In the context of an interview in which Charlamagne was representing himself as "black media" and pressing Joe Biden to make commitments to black voters, it was clear that Biden was making a poor, patronizing attempt at a joke, but even if he had pulled it off, it would have missed the point entirely. Obviously very few black Americans who aren't married to Kim Kardashian have any notion of supporting Donald Trump in any way, but that's not the issue. As Charlemagne was quick to point out, "It don't have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact that I want something for my community."
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While Biden doesn't need to fear a surge of black Trump voters, there is a distinct possibility that black Americans will stay home rather than go out of their way to vote for one of the authors of the 1994 crime bill that has led to millions of non-violent offenders—disproportionately black men—being imprisoned. Never one to shy away from a chance to reject voters concerns and insist that he doesn't need to change or improve or listen to them—because he's good enough already—Biden blurted out in response, "Take a look at my record, man!"
Biden then made an effort to direct that review of his record away from the 1994 crime bill and from his regrettable history on school busing, pointing Charlemagne and his audience to instead consider his protection of the Voting Rights Act. But the truth is that Biden's biggest contribution to black America was being Barack Obama's vice president, and he has done his best to push the value of having a (very prominent, popular, and respected) black friend to its furthest extent.
Considering the backlash his comments quickly received, with the hashtag #YouAintBlack trending on Twitter, it seems he's starting to recognize the limits of that association, and maybe he now understands that being Obama's buddy does not make him the official gatekeeper of blackness. In a call with black business leaders, he reportedly stated, "I shouldn't have been such a wise guy. I shouldn't have been so cavalier." Maybe he'll look back on the rest of his conversation with Charlamagne and consider that maybe he was also too cavalier in his stance against cannabis legalization and that promising "there are multiple black women being considered" for his VP pick is may not be enough to get black voters excited.
While it's always worth restating that Joe Biden is a much much much better option than Donald Trump, that's not saying much. If he continues to rely on the fact that our broken system forces an artificial binary on voters—leaving us with two dissatisfying options—he's unlikely to inspire the kind of enthusiasm he'll need to win in November. The fact that the other option is a used band-aid isn't likely to get your mouth watering for a slice of stale white bread. If Joe Biden doesn't start listening to voters' concerns and adapting his positions to meet them (or drop out and endorse someone who will), he stands a real chance of losing to that used band-aid.
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