March 29, 2021
By: Nathaniel BALLANTYNE
TRUENEWSBLOG- JOE BIDEN has talked more explicitly about racism in America in his opening weeks than any president in recent memory.
He pledged to defeat “white supremacy” in his Inaugural address. He’s talked about the “corrosive” effects of “systemic racism.” His first primetime White House speech included a denunciation of “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans.” Last week he attacked new voter laws in Georgia as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
Biden’s blunt talk is partly a reflection of the times. The country has begun talking more forthrightly about race in recent years, confronted by videos of police brutality against people of color and Covid-19 data that underscores yawning racial disparities. It follows that the president would talk more openly too.
But it’s also less risky for Biden to condemn racism because — let’s be blunt about it — he’s white.
When Biden’s then boss, BARACK OBAMA, was confronting similar issues a decade ago, he often felt constrained in discussing racism—fearful that his involvement would only inflame matters and turn off white voters.
When Attorney General ERIC HOLDER told hundreds of Justice Department employees in February 2009 that “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Obama brushed him back in The New York Times. “I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language,” he said . In his memoir, Obama ruefully recounted an early lesson on the blowback that would come when confronting race, after he weighed in on the arrest of Harvard professor HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.
After Obama said at a July 2009 press conference that the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” a backlash ensued that, Obama wrote, swamped everything else. “You would have thought that in the press conference I had donned a dashiki and cussed out the police myself,” he wrote.
Obama ultimately walked back the remarks and held a “beer summit” at the White House with Gates and the officer who arrested him.
While some Republicans and conservative commentators have accused Biden of playing the race card and suggested he and Democrats are discriminating against white people, the political backlash does not appear nearly as severe.severe. Polls show 55 percent of the country still approves of Biden’s handling of issues around race.
For Obama, however, the Gates incident “caused a huge drop in my support among white voters, bigger than would come from any single event during the eight years of my presidency. It was support that I’d never completely get back.”
Political scientist JOHN SIDES, who has written extensively on the topic, told us that every time Obama spoke, “the risk he was running was that people would be quicker of accusing him of favoritism toward Black voters.”
After the beer summit, he sat alone in the Oval Office reflecting on the incident and the balancing act facing him and other Black officials in his administration like Holder and SUSAN RICE. We’d grown skilled at suppressing our reactions to minor slights, ever ready to give white colleagues the benefit of the doubt,” he wrote, “remaining mindful that all but the most careful discussions of race risked triggering in them a mild panic.”
Notably, in retrospect, the White House made sure that Biden was also at Obama’s 2009 beer summit.
In an interview last year, Gates told The New York Times Magazine that the then-VP only attended because “the Cambridge police had insisted that because there were going to be two black guys at the table, they wanted two white guys at the table!” (A former White House official told the magazine Biden was always intended to be at the table.)
The Cambridge police sent a white officer to the summit as well, according to Gates.
“As we were walking out to the Rose Garden, somehow that guy got pushed to the side, and Joe Biden jumped in the line,” Gates said. “That’s what nobody ever figured out: Why is Biden at the table? He was there to be the second white guy.”–