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Hey, Joe Biden, sometimes it’s best to leave black humor to black people

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Joe Biden has been pushing back against the backlash that came after he made racially volatile remarks Friday during a radio interview. That’s what he gets for trying to be funny.

“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” the former vice president cheerfully declared at the end of a live interview with host Charlamagne Tha God on the popular radio and online program “The Breakfast Club.”

Well, before you could say “Biden gaffe,” the hashtag #YouAintBlack went viral on Twitter, hitting Biden from his left and right. The “We told you so” tweets came from disgruntled progressives who wanted a different nominee.

And from the right, President Donald Trump’s campaign pitched “#YouAintBlack” T-shirts on its website. Black Trump surrogates, including former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell, were decrying the speed with which Democrats and other liberals of all colors let Biden get away with racial affronts.

By then Biden was apologizing in a phone call with the U.S. Black Chambers for his “really unfortunate” remarks. “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” he said contritely. “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier in responding” and “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.”

Fine. Let’s get serious. Biden was joking. Only the ironically deficient would think that he was being serious, even if his own irony deficiency allowed him to stumble into yet another of his notorious gaffes.

What’s different this time? Biden’s “You ain’t black” gaffe is most likely to hurt him with younger progressives. Us older folks mostly have made up our minds already. Younger voters need to be persuaded not only to choose Biden but also to get out and vote, which too many failed to do for Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Biden’s attempt at humor rubbed a particularly sore point in black community life, the shaming of fellow African Americans who, in somebody’s lopsided opinion, aren’t acting “black enough,” a point raised by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, currently the Senate’s only black Republican.

Unfortunately, in Biden’s frequent visits with black organizations he has sometimes gotten a bit too comfortable with his environment and stepped into the discomfort zone.

 

His “you ain’t black” clunker reminded me of actor Steve Carell playing paper company manager Michael Scott in the now-classic “Diversity Day” episode of “The Office.” In the spirit of the day, Scott, who is white, cheerfully tries to retell Chris Rock’s classic “Niggas vs. Black People” monologue in its original uncensored form. Big mistake.

For Rock, the monologue was so successful (6.9 million views on YouTube, last time I checked) that it helped launch Rock’s stellar career. Yet it also has been so controversial that even Rock says he will never tell it again in public. Biden should take a hint from that. Some material is too volatile to be handled by amateurs.

That’s not always easy. Remember, for example, how Biden stirred up enough uproar after calling Barack Obama “clean” and “articulate” in 2007 when they were both running for president. Biden decided to drop out of the race, but Obama later made Biden his running mate.

But we hardly had time to wax nostalgic about Biden’s past offenses this past weekend before Trump inflicted new wounds against himself in a weekend tweetstorm, including retweets of truly vile and sexist descriptions of Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton, among other liberal women.

Perhaps Trump was more concerned with distracting voters from another grim news development: American deaths from the novel coronavirus topped 100,000 as of Sunday, a toll that Trump conspicuously omitted from his tweets.

Let that bring us back to reality. Neither liberals nor anyone else has let Biden get away with anything. If his nomination is confirmed, he still has an election to face in November. That’s when our system lets the voters decide whether a politician gets away with anything or not.

That’s what voters did when they elected Trump, whether they also held their noses or not. If you don’t see that, as Biden might say, maybe you ain’t paying attention.

(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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