Friday, August 07, 2020


Joe Biden, meet Mike Kinsley (as he may have decades ago). The former columnist is famous for having in 1984 defined "gaffe" as "when a politician tells the truth." He later added "the dictionary defines 'gaffe' as a social error or faux pas" and the "opposite of a lie," and is "when a politician tells the truth."

So former vice president Biden has told a panel of journalists at the National Association of Black Journalists-National Association of Hispanic Journalists

And by the way, what you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things. You go to Florida you find a very different attitude about immigration in certain places than you do when you're in Arizona. So it's a very different, a very diverse community

This being 2020, when truth is no defense, Biden was required, as he put it, to "clarify" his remark.

It should be disturbing that public figures must beg forgiveness for, backtrack from, or even clarify statements which anyone with any knowledge of the subject- in this case ethnicity- realize is accurate. Fortunately, on Friday The Hill's Rising podcast featured two guests who recognized that, though Biden's comment was a gaffe (tactically foolish) it merely reflected reality. Marshall Kosloff can be seen explaining

The thing that's frustrating here is the broader point he's making is a really valid one, which is that as part of the legacy of 200+ years of slavery, black people are a much more unified community than Hispanics are, right? Why, I was seeing this morning- try telling a Puerto Rican that they're Mexican-American. Or try telling a Cuban-American that they're Mexican-American, right? These are different issues and they're voting in different things. A Cuban voter in Florida is probably voting on our relationship with Cuba. But a Mexican-American in Arizona probably isn't voting the same way. That's the point Joe Biden was inelegantly trying to make.

Kosloff's only mistake- a very minor one- was the reference to 200+ years of slavery of black people. Rather, it is 200+ years of slavery for the vast majority of African-Americans, descended from slaves brought forcefully to the New World.

Though Latino citizens of the USA hail from many countries, Biden's point would have been even stronger had he invoked Hispanics rather than Latinos because individuals and families from Spain are European, often proudly so. Nevertheless. Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, and Cuban-Americans differ significantly, even aside from the fact that the latter two became American citizens through a naturalization process, whereas Puerto Ricans need no hyphen. They are Americans because Puerto Ricans are Americans.

Biden's vice-presidential selection process, which includes numerous black women and only a few who aren't, further illustrates the validity of Kosloff's statement.  Kamala Harris, black US Senator from California, may be the only prospective choice who has reportedly been on Biden's shortlist throughout his search. With a mother hailing from India and a father from Jamaica, she has in most instances identified as being black, as she usually has been characterized and perceived by most voters and others.

Harris likely brings the sensibility of being black in a predominately white society, a largely unexplored issue which will remain unexplored even if she becomes the nominee. She is hailed by supporters as a strong and forceful voice who will bring to the ticket needed diversity. However, she is not African-American. She is Caribbean-American, not African-American, on her father's side.

And that demonstrates that the diversity in the black community is limited. Kamala Harris, with mixed parentage, is perceived as black, identifies, as black, and if chosen will be viewed as the black candidate selected by Joe Biden.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee did not slur the black community by observing that it is less diverse than the Latino community.  Solidarity- born of slavery and other factors- has its advantages. So, too, should speaking the truth- but it is what it is and we are where we are.

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