Former Vice President Joe Biden traveled the well-worn Democratic practice of addressing the congregation in a primarily African-American church yesterday. Despite what should be a fairly obvious problem in the whole Separation of Church and State thing, candidates seem to do this every cycle. The big takeaway from his sermon, er… speech, was that he wants to show the country that he’s as woke as the rest of the field when it comes to problems of systemic racial inequity. To that end, he assured the congregation that he’s fully aware that white people just don’t get it. (Associated Press, emphasis added)
Biden’s appearance comes at an inflection point for Democrats’ 2020 leader in the polls. He is trying to capitalize on his strength among older black voters while navigating criticism from some African American and other nonwhite leaders, particularly younger ones, who take a skeptical view of the 76-year-old white man’s willingness and ability to address systemic racism.
During his 20 minutes at the pulpit, Biden condemned institutional racism as the direct legacy of slavery and lamented that the nation has “never lived up to” the ideals of equality written into its founding documents. But then he added a more personal note — perhaps the closest he would come to addressing his detractors. “Those who are white try,” Biden said, “but we can never fully understand.”
White people are the worst, aren’t they?
Look, I get what Biden is trying to do here. He owes his frontrunner status – particularly in states like North Carolina – to the strong support he receives from black voters. And that support is seen as possibly being in jeopardy after a series of gaffes where he’s come off looking entirely tone-deaf on questions of race. (We’ll have more on the record player moment later today.) So this trip was probably pitched as a bit of damage control. In that regard, he seemed to do pretty well.
I also can’t entirely disagree with his message, at least in theory. The majority of black and white Americans have very different experiences growing up in America even today. But that really applies to anyone. Growing up Asian, Hispanic, Jewish or Muslim will also result in unique experiences and challenges, as much as some of us might like to think otherwise. And believe it or not, growing up white if you are poor, despite having some inherent advantages, is also no picnic. Perhaps sharing more of our experiences could help alleviate the situation a bit, but I’m no expert on that.
But nothing is going to change on the racial divide front just because one politician showed up at a primarily black church and said white people can’t understand. And it’s unclear if this is going to be an effective damage control measure. But the other question is whether or not Biden actually needed any damage control. We’ll have to wait through a couple of polling cycles to know for sure, but Biden’s support among black voters has been strong from the beginning. And those voters already knew that he’s an ancient white man in his seventies who frequently puts his foot in his mouth. I think his relationship with Barack Obama buys him a lot of forgiveness on that front.
I’m willing to offer Crazy Uncle Joe a nickel’s worth of free advice here. If his support among black voters doesn’t significantly tank by the end of the week, he should probably close the book on this chapter of the campaign and get back to his usual schtick. The more he talks about race, the greater the chance he’ll have another record player moment and seriously start digging his own grave.