Podcast | Race to the White House: The 'you ain't black' controversy

Nivedita V | Updated on May 29, 2020 Published on May 29, 2020

"I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain’t black."

The Democratic party's presumptive nominee Joe Biden is again at the centre of a big controversy.

What you head at the beginning of the episode was from Biden's radio interview with Charlamagne tha God on "The Breakfast Club".


What was supposed to be a way to rally young, African-American voters, became a big disaster for Biden.When he questioned the blackness of African Americans if they even considered not voting for the Democrats, or skipped voting all together, what Biden did was make the African-American community a vote bank.

When you make a major section of your votebase -- the reason why you are the front runner, and why the party coalesced behind you -- a vote bank, you are taking them for granted. 

This is exactly what Biden did, say his critics.To make matters worse, he added an accent. He said "you ain't black". This caricature only ended up stereotyping a large, diverse community, critics say.


These sentiments were articulated well by John Kass in his column for the Chicago Tribune, where he said, "Biden reveals the Democratic Party lash, which separates Americans into herdable groups for votes, based on skin pigment or gender. The lash is there to shame the old and teach the young a lesson about pain to come."

He writes that the Democrats have made a habit of telling minorities and people of colour how they should vote, and if they don't they are ridiculed for it.Many prominent African American leaders, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said that the Biden's remarks made him unconfortable. 

"I cringed, no question about that,” he said in an interview with The View on Tuesday morning. You remeber how rember how Clyburn was one of Biden's early supporters and he helped Biden win South Caolina, which basically the turning point of the Democratic primaries.

The backlash he received was strong, and it hurt the campaign. Symone D Sanders, an advisor to Biden's campaign, said that the remarks were said in jest. Just hours later after the interivew was aired, Biden addressed the controversy himself, by calling his remarks "really unfortunate".

In a call to the US Black Chamber of Commerce  on Friday itself, he said tht he was cavalier in his remarks. "No one should have to vote for any party, based on their race or religion or background," Biden said. The Trump campign seized the opportunity to make Biden look bad. Within hours of the remarks, the President's campaign was selling t-shirts that said "You ain't black".


They also released an attack ad.The campaign's Katrina said, "Joe Biden believes black men and women are incapable of being independent or free thinking."The Republican's sole black senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said, "I was struck by the condescension and the arrogance in his comments," Scott said.

"I could not believe my ears that he would stoop so low to tell folks what they should do, how they should think and what it means to be black."In this interview itself, there was an other controversy, but it didn't make national headlines: Biden falsely claimed that the NAACP had endorsed me every time he ran for office. This prompted that the civil rights organization to issue a statement saying that it "does not endorse candidates for political office at any level.”Despite working for the first black president in the US, Biden hasn't had the best of relationship with the African American community.

His record to fight crime has been a matter of concern to his critics. They cite the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which was passed in 1994. This Act is seen as the culmination of decades of Biden's effort to pass criminal justice reforms.

In an explainer, Vox reports that the law, which was passed by the Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, was meant to reverse decades of rising crime, was one of the key contributors to mass incarceration in the 1990s. It quotes critics who say that it led to more prison sentences, more prison cells, and more aggressive policing — especially hurting black and brown Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.Now, he is trying to undo the ill effects of this act, but he will not admit that it had various unintended consequences, his critics say.

Published on May 29, 2020