By Quardricos Bernard Driskell
There is one profound truth this coming November – the Democratic Party knows it needs the support of black voters to win the 2020 presidential election.
Fortunately for Democrats, black voters have been consistently loyal to the party: According to Pew Research Center well over 80% of African-Americans identify with them; Republican support among black voters remains in the single digits. Unfortunately, however, this loyalty has largely led to the two parties putting minimal effort into courting the black vote. Republicans don’t believe they can win them over; and often their strategies incorporating dog-whistles and racial appeals to white voters are appealing and Democrats don’t bother courting them because they know black voters have no alternative.
So when former Vice President Joe Biden virtually appeared on The Breakfast Club and said “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Charlamagne tha God retorted that “it has nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact that I want something for my community.”
Biden replied, “Take a look at my record. I extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP’s endorsed me every time I’ve run. Take a look at the record.”
Charlamagne was correct in the implicit sense that some black voters are swing voters figuring out whether they are voting for Biden or not voting at all. And the truth of the matter is that Biden’s record consists of authoring the Crime Bill of 1994, and he did take a lead role in the fight against sending white children to majority-black schools and black children to majority-white schools as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who his campaign is currently vetting for the vice presidential nominee slot, keenly pointed out during one of the first Democratic debates. He also has a history of making racially insensitive gaffes like calling then Sen. Obama the first “clean“ African-American candidate.
Another stark reality is that Trump still has the potential to chip away five points of the black male vote from Democrats even with his mishandling of the coronavirus situation which is far more important than five points of the Hispanic vote in terms of the Electoral College. Biden’s comment exposes at deepest levels and broadest scope the foolishness of what continues to be the perception of black voters – they are monolithic in thought and political action. And regrettably, his comment only builds upon the long-familiar unholy tropes of racial supremacy and devaluation of black voters in America’s federal republic.
James Baldwin, at the 1965 debate at the University of Cambridge between conservative intellectual William Buckley, said that the only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power and no one holds power forever. And implicit in his worldview is that power without wisdom only dissipates with time. Whether Biden chooses Sen. Harris, Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), or Stacey Abrams, which after his comments would be smart to do, Biden has yet to learn that political wisdom is a needed imperative to embrace justice, but sadly he and Democrats think it is only sophistry.
Quardricos Bernard Driskell is a professor of legislative politics, and recently taught Race and Politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4