At a fundraiser former Vice-President Joe Biden said that a segregationist Senator “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ” He was trying to highlight a point. He could work with even the most despicable of people on the other side of the aisle. At least that is the argument from him and his campaign.
The firestorm that came soon after the comments emerged is fully justified. It shows just how out of touch Biden is with modern American reality, or for that matter, that part of American history.
When Biden entered the Senate he was the odd ball in some ways. He came from a working-class background, not the life of privilege that most Senators hailed from. However, he was white, even if not from a life of privilege. That made a world of difference. Having an older white man from the south call him “son” was quite normal and part of life. Biden was younger and was a way to emphasize age. It was a sign of respect. This usage is still common in American society when an older man calls a younger one “son.”
“Boy” was (and still is) reserved for African-American males. It is not limited to those who are poor. This is a way to diminish the manhood of grown men. This is a reminder, regardless of how much money, or education they have, that they are mere boys that will never grow up and deserve equal treatment. Therefore, they have to be treated like children, in a paternalistic society designed to keep them in a place of submission.
Biden apparently did not listen to his advisors who told him not to go that far or mention these men. Moreover, he is doubling down on the comment. According to the Washington Post, he said this on his way to a fundraiser while demanding an apology from a black man:
“They know better. Apologize for what? Cory (booker) should apologize. He knows better. There’s not a racist bone in my body; I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.”
In effect, the former Vice-President, without realizing it, is repeating the patterns of control and power in American life. He is calling a US Senator, who grew with those patterns of discrimination, boy. He is not using the appellation, but he is effectively doing that. Why? How dare a black man, or a black woman, tell a white man how to speak or think? Oh never mind that Biden did not grow up with the threat of anybody ever calling him boy. It is time for Joe to start listening to his advisors.
He is from the era of the civil rights movement. However, he did internalize a lot of the social mores of the period. Every so often they come out. And when he is called upon for pulling up painful, yet to heal, scabs, he should listen.
I expect more gaffes from him. He is known for them. At the moment, he is still leading in the polls, and part of it is name recognition. We are way too early in the process to tell us who will do well in the end. I suspect though, that Joe Biden is very strong with the very same white working class he came from. But he could depress the votes of younger voters, and voters of color in the end. Why? Well, gaffes like this, and the very long past that can be dredged up. He is also part of the current Democratic Establishment, the same that did not listen to the party faithful in multiple states during the primaries and imposed Hillary Clinton with super-delegates. It was precisely the same party that still has to understand why voters are angry with that establishment.
What is funny, is that Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are very close to that same establishment that Biden comes from. Neither is getting the support that implicitly Biden is getting. In other words, strap yourself in. This ride has just begun.