Thursday, February 1, 2007

Joe Biden, what is wrong with you?

Joe Biden (D-DL) announced yesterday that he will be running for President in 2008. He then went on to make some pretty harsh statements about Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, followed by a characterization of Barack Obama which was condecending at best, thinly veiled racist at worst. With Obama, Biden said, "you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy ... I mean, that's a storybook, man." Biden has since apologized, but continues to insist he was taken out of context.

The MSM and blogosphere has hooked on to the word "clean" as the most offensive word in the statement. On the Daily Show last night, Biden said he should have instead said "fresh," at which point I wanted a beat to drop and Joey to start rapping along with that Outcast song.
"O-bama fo' Presi-dent
he's just so fresh and (so fresh and) so clean clean"
Sadly, that didn't happen.

Refering to a black man running for president as "clean" is certainly a bit of a head-scratcher (or just racist), but the Chicago Tribune pointed out their problem with a different word: articulate. Usually I have problems with the Trib's Editorial Board, as they are right-wing hawks, but this time they were right on. They write:

Note to Biden. Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them “articulate.” It’s the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying “He’s a credit to his race” they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.

Those dated words, like Biden’s comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.

This also reminds me of a Chris Rock joke that goes something like,

"White people are always saying how Colin Powell is so well-spoken,
he's so well-spoken...HE'S AN EDUCATED MAN!
What kind of voice were you expecting to come out of him?!"

The issue here is that these words, "clean," "articulate," don't really make sense when applied to other candidates. Think about how strange it would be if John Edwards came out and said,
"Joe Biden is a really clean guy."
"What?"
"Yeah, clean."
"I'm sorry, I don't think I understand."
"And he's articulate."
"Um...okay."
And so neither do they make sense when applied to Obama, execpt in the way that as a black man, some white people feel the need to characterize him with these "positive" words that, as the Trib editorial points out, are historically problematic as well as just plain stupid.

The most complicated issue here, I think, is that Biden was trying to be a good guy. I think he was trying to be complimentary, and "straight-forward," and I don't think he's a racist in the way that Bush ("doesn't care about black people") is. That doesn't excuse his poorly worded, awkward re-entry into Presidential Politics, but I do think that given the chance, he could elborated on his initial statement to get to something closer to what he meant, and futher away from the insensitive condescention that actually came out of his mouth.

PS- Biden has also said some really insentive things about Indians working at 7-11s, and something else really stupid that escapes me at the moment. So, maybe he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt after all.

1 comment:

molly said...

apparently al sharpton sent joe biden a message that says he showers every day