My fiancée and I have developed somewhat of a routine for the Democratic presidential debates.
We make dinner, mix a drink, sit in the living room, and she falls asleep as we watch the candidates try to sell us. When she wakes up, she asks me to give her a synopsis of what she missed and what the best parts were. Then she asks “How did Biden mess up on black people?”
Each time she asks the Biden question, I have a new answer. Like my fiancée falling asleep, Joe Biden’s problematic debate answers and vision for black people has become routine.
But if nothing else, Biden is consistent, as you can see from a supercut of his racial gaffes over the years.
If you’re anything like me, you have to eventually ask yourself, “How is it that Joe Biden is still doing so well with black voters?”
Why is it that while other candidates continue to announce bold plans and vision for issues plaguing the black community, Joe Biden coasts without doing even close to the same?
Why is it that Joe Biden gets away with continuing dangerous false narratives, such as marijuana being a “gateway drug”—which isn’t true (pdf)—while other candidates discuss their plans to both legalize and decriminalize it, understanding the impact that our marijuana laws have had, especially on black and brown people?
Numerous black leaders and many influential black women specifically have also asked these questions, and have ultimately decided not to support Biden. Many have cited that he’s still yet to take accountability for his actions in his role as Senate Judiciary chair during the heinous treatment of Anita Hill while hearings took place in which she brought allegations of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Again, how is this 77-year-old white man getting away with this in the most diverse presidential candidate field in history—during which, at one point, two were black?
After speaking with many of my own friends and family members who support him, and watching conversations online, the answer became obvious:
Familiarity and fear.
When it comes to black voters, Joe Biden has ridden both all the way to a consistent lead of 35 points or more in polls of black voters. A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows Biden with a staggering 48 percent support among black voters, far ahead of any other Democratic candidate (Sanders came in a distant second with 20 percent).
In my opinion, familiarity and fear are two of the three most powerful tools a politician has to win an election. The third, which is seldom used, is honesty.
But if Biden or his team were honest, they’d tell you they’ve done little to garner this level of black support, compared to other candidates. In fact, if Biden were any other candidate, his racial gaffes and behavior would have made him an afterthought years ago for black people.
Yet somehow, not only do black people continue inviting “Uncle Joe” to the cookout, we don’t even mind that he’s showing up empty-handed.
During last summer’s first Democratic presidential debate, then-candidate Kamala Harris called out Biden for his history of opposing school busing to help desegregate schools. Biden followed by becoming flustered and failing to give any legitimate evidence to the contrary.
Following the exchange, many criticized Biden, but some seemed unshaken by the moment. Education and civil rights activist Beatrice “Bebe” Coker said, “I know Joe’s heart” in response to critiques about him. Coker, like many others, spoke about Biden as if he were family—as if he were one of us. To be clear, this is a luxury he’s had since his days as vice president to Barack Obama.
This is the same Barack Obama who Biden described as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” during his 2007 presidential announcement. When reporters asked him to explain what he meant by that, he responded: “This guy is something brand new that nobody has seen before...nice-looking guy.”
Yet and still, Biden has taken advantage of the first black president’s legacy and used it to build not only familiarity but also loyalty, especially amongst older black voters. In most polls, Biden is at nearly 60 percent with black voters over the age of 45 years old.
This is not to say younger voters are completely not supporting him, but he has consistently only polled around 30 percent with young black voters.
But Biden shouldn’t be worried, as over 60 percent of all black primary voters were over the age of 45 in 2016.
So why is there such a disconnect between black voters when it comes to Biden?
If there’s nothing else I know about older black people, it’s that for better or worse, they are nostalgic and consistent. Often, older black people are nostalgic for times that many others wouldn’t consider good. But when you’re conditioned in the trauma of the black experience, survival becomes a standard for good or bad.
For many, the Obama years were the best they’ve had. In Biden, they see the ability to have that back. Because of black trauma, all Biden has to do is be “not bad,” or just “better than Trump.”
This is where the familiarity from the Obama administration intersects with the fear of the Trump administration.
What Donald Trump stands for is not new; in fact, it’s as old as America itself. Donald Trump is the wildest dream of white supremacy. He is the embodiment of overt bigotry that is all too familiar to older black people, and they are afraid. As we all are.
But that fear and pragmatism have caused the black community to go down two different paths. Older black people have headed towards the familiar and what they imagine to be the sure way to beat Trump: Joe Biden. In contrast, younger and more progressive black people have headed towards the unknown, and who we believe to be candidates that can not only beat Trump but offer us more than politics as usual.
There is one thing both sides understand: Donald Trump is a threat not only to black people, but to all of mankind. Which is why we should all vote for whoever ends up facing him.
But the primaries offer us an opportunity that we have never had; an opportunity for more than the status quo and inadvertent racism that Joe Biden is offering. An opportunity to potentially do more than survive. An opportunity to live.
This isn’t about asking what Joe Biden wants to do for us, because the answer is the same as what he has always done for us: just about nothing.
Unlike other candidates, Joe Biden has done nothing to deserve black people. We are ultimately feeding his white privilege by guaranteeing him a vote he hasn’t worked for.
Black people deserve better than that. We deserve better than Joe Biden.
Porsche Landon-Hutton was a contributor on this piece.