Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention at the SNHU Arena on September 7, 2019, in Manchester, N.H.
Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Eyes on 2020An in-depth look at the candidates vying for the highest office in the land in 2020.  

HOUSTON—Let’s get straight to the point: Joe Biden showed his ass on the debate stage last night and there is no way in hell he should have the support from black voters that he has. Much of this has to do with a mainstream, white punditry establishment and press corps that treats him like an elder statesman whose racist responses and flip-flops are rationalized as gaffes and misinterpretations.

For example, when Julián Castro challenged Biden about his statement that people would have to buy into his healthcare plan, Biden said he didn’t say it. (Well, he pretty much did. The Washington Post’s fact-check, which has its own problems. which I will get into soon, has the transcript.) But Castro’s press secretary highlighted the part of the transcript the former HUD secretary called him out on:

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Biden may not have meant what he said, but the way the Washington Post analysis portrayed it was as if Castro misheard him, and that simply is not true. Also, the author colored her fact-check with an accusation of ageism.

“Castro was calling Biden old, plain and simple, by accusing him of forgetting what he said,” Amber Phillips wrote. “Whispers about Biden’s age have followed him on the campaign trail.”

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This is intellectually dishonest.

Castro didn’t mention his age. Phillips did. And her analysis gave Biden a lot of grace that does not accurately reflect his actual words. We all heard Biden say, and I am quoting his words: “The option I’m proposing is Medicare-for-all— Medicare for choice. If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance—from your employer, you automatically can buy into this. You don’t have—no preexisting condition can stop you from buying in. You get covered, period.”

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Even Vox wrote that Biden contradicted himself.

It was up to Biden to clarify his words, not for Castro to help a former vice president who has run for the White House THREE TIMES to figure out what he meant to say. It certainly isn’t our place as media to do that for any of the candidates. But Phillips isn’t the only person writing articles glossing over the fact that Biden is only on stage because a black man picked him to join his crew.

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New York Times contributing opinion writer Timothy Egan accused Castro of ageism in a column entitled, “It Will Take More Than Cheap Shots to Knock Off Biden.” In addition to framing Castro’s vigorous check of Biden’s record as “dirty work,” Egan tries to create a sympathetic historical correlation between Biden and statesmen who served their countries later in life and the scrutiny they faced as a result:

Age itself is not the problem. Winston Churchill was in his mid-70s when he became, for a second time, Britain’s prime minister. Konrad Adenauer served as chancellor of postwar Germany well into his 80s. And how old was Nelson Mandela when took office as South Africa’s first black president? He was 75.

But age will be the weapon that Biden’s opponents will use, because it’s basically all they have.

Biden is running as a normal guy. Normal is dull. It stirs no blood. Normal is not having to worry about who’s piloting the plane; it’ll land. Uncle Joe is comfort food, the “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in,” in Robert Frost’s words.

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Well, for one, Mandela presided over post-apartheid South Africa and prevented a race war. Biden participated in and perpetuated racism. Big difference, Egan.

And besides the fact that Biden isn’t worthy of shining Churchill’s shoes, this use of the word “normal” suggests that white equals normal. Egan doesn’t interrogate why it is “normal” for a white man who has been accused of invading women’s space for decades, authored legislation that is credited for locking of millions of black people and supported anti-school busing bills is leading in the polls. “Normal” doesn’t explain why Biden has yet to sit down for a serious one-on-one national interview with a reporter who would actually challenge his policy positions.

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None of this is normal. It is institutional racism.

I have watched and covered many presidential debates in my life. The exchange between Castro and Biden was pretty light. But, somehow, the delicate white media felt some type of way about the unmitigated gall of a presidential candidate who would, you know, challenge another candidate about what he said:

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Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin had this to say:

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Even the other white presidential candidates joined in on the institutional racism of the media’s bias:

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There was nothing personal about that exchange, Bernie and Beto. Nor was anything Castro said Trump-like, Klobuchar. I swear white people are so damn fragile—when it comes to their feelings, of course.

Of course, it took Kamala Harris, a sista, to tell the white boys, with their fragile egos and snowflake-thin skin, to chill out:

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And Cory Booker, a brotha, followed up:

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Other people of color smelled the racism, too:

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Notice the difference in race between people who felt offended by Castro’s words and those who do not. We all see what’s happening here.

You know what I and most black people found disrespectful? Biden’s response to ABC News moderator Linsey Davis’ question about a 1975 quote in which he dismissed the idea of America needing to address slavery, stating, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

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When asked what he feels Americans today must do to repair the harm from the legacy of slavery. Biden blamed black parents:

I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out ― the $60,000 level. Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need ― we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are ― I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have ― make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not day care. School.We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t ― they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television ― excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the ― the ― make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school ― a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

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And while he mentioned institutional racism and redlining, he didn’t offer solutions on how he’d combat either. He just beat up on black parents and black kids.

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O’Rourke, Sanders, Klobuchar and other white people didn’t call out Biden for these words. Oh, no. Their feelings were hurt because a Latino man got too loud for their comfort. I was disappointed in O’Rourke, as he is supposed to be the woke white boy on the campaign trail. I guess he isn’t as aware as he claims to be. That he didn’t see the implicit racial bias in how Castro was being portrayed shows that Woke Beto has work to do.

The white media establishment is protecting Biden and giving him allowances they’d never give to black candidates. What is even more troubling is the press is interpreting Castro’s passion as “rude” and “out of bounds.” As a black man, I know tone policing when I see it.

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Yet, Biden is given the benefit of the doubt over his incompetent statements and racist comments by being labeled with the moniker “Uncle Joe.” That is gendered language used for older men of all races who say and do inappropriate things, but because they are old and “from a different time,” we allow them to get away with it.

Black people have been calling Biden “Uncle Joe” because of his bulldog support of Barack Obama. Black folks have a very complicated relationship with Barry, but, because the GOP’s attacks against him were so obviously racist, we rocked with any white man who stood as Obama’s road dog. Biden was that road dog.

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But Obama is no longer president and all of the things that made Uncle Joe uncle aren’t cute anymore, which gets me to the black people who still think Biden is their guy.

Oh yeah, it’s y’all turn to get this smoke.

I remember back in 2007 when this light-skinned ass black man with a funny ass name with a white mama told America he was ready to be president of the United States and y’all niggas was like, “Aw hell naw.” Because we all know that a whole lot of black people were still fawning over Bill Clinton (because niggas was really calling him the first black president) and the closest thing to him was his wife, Hillary. Mind you, she supported the 1994 crime bill (I know she was the first lady at the time, but she still supported it) and used very racist language to describe inner-city kids as “superpredators.”

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None of this stopped much of the Congressional Black Caucus and most black people to support Clinton early on. She didn’t have to pass much of a litmus test. But Obama. Oh, Negros was all up in his shit and it was personal as fuck.

“A black man can’t win.”

“White people ain’t gon’ vote fo no black man.”

“His wife better not be white or I’m not voting for him.”

Black folk went up and down on that nigga harder than a truffle pig looking for any excuse to not vote for him.

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The media weren’t any better. We all remember the racist New Yorker magazine cover of Michelle Obama and the media’s racist and competent-less coverage of the radical black theology practiced at the Obama’s old church. Obama was arguably the most vetted president, personally and professionally, in the history of presidential politics. Yet, when we have decades of Biden fighting school busing and desegregation, women saying he makes them uncomfortable and authoring the 1994 crime bill that experts say contributed to mass incarceration rates and y’all OK with that?

Really, black people?

So, we can require Michelle, a black woman to affirm Barack’s black card, yet we are going to allow Biden to cruise to the nomination without making him thoroughly account for presiding on the most dehumanizing public hearing of a black woman in television history in Anita Hill?

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Why does Biden get a pass for his record, but Kamala Harris has to defend her time as a prosecutor 24/7 and suffer in the polls, in part, for it?

The first primary is months away and a lot can happen between now and then, but the first order of business is calling out the racial bias in how the media are covering the candidates. But, just as important, we need to interrogate the racial (and gender) bias we hold in ourselves. We can’t demand black excellence from Obama in 2008, but accept white mediocrity from Biden, his former sidekick, in 2019.

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The 2020 primary can’t go down like that.