Racist Code Words or Truth Telling?

Journal-isms: Commentators weigh in on Joe Biden's "chains" comment and Touré's n-word quip.

Joe Biden, second from left(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
Joe Biden, second from left(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

How serious was Joe Biden‘s mistake in saying to a black audience in Danville, Va., last week that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains?” How about Touré, the writer turned MSNBC commentator, who apologized for his language after saying last week that Mitt Romney’s campaign was sending coded racial messages?

“I know it’s a heavy thing, I don’t say it lightly, but this is ‘niggerization,’ ” Touré said. “You are not one of us, you are like the scary black man who we’ve been trained to fear.”

Or is this outrage over words missing the bigger picture – that policies, actions and misrepresentations of the opponent’s positions are what deserve the attention?

Columnists and commentators have been taking all of these positions in the last few days.

. . . imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that,” the Boston Globe scolded in an editorial about Biden’s remarks on Friday. “Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity – and so would Romney. In the fight for civility and substance over pointless hyperbole, Biden may not be the worst offender. But he’s an offender nonetheless, and he should apologize.”

In the Detroit Free Press, Rochelle Riley, an African American columnist, said Biden was the wrong messenger. “Were it the Rev. Al Sharpton who had turned to a crowd filled with black people in a city that is 48% black and said that Republicans are ‘going to put ya’ll back in chains,’ it wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow,” Riley wrote.

But Sharpton wouldn’t have said ‘ya’ll.’ He would have said ‘us.’ Then again, Al Sharpton wouldn’t have gone there at all.

Meanwhile, Joseph Williams, who left Politico last month after controversial remarks that included the opinion that Romney feels comfortable around whites like himself, saw something else in the reaction to Touré’s choice of words.

. . . Touré’s blunt assessment of Romney’s ‘ni**erization’ of Obama, and the sanctimonious outrage it triggered, illustrated a disturbing trend in American politics: white conservatives have hijacked the debate on race in America,” Williams wrote Monday for thegrio.com.