Saturday, January 09, 2021

Race, And A Whole Lot More

"I mean, 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."

Joe Biden, describing fellow candidate Barack Obama. The remark was made the same day Biden filed the official paperwork to launch his presidential campaign. Biden later apologized and said the remark was taken out of context.

The author of that quote of January 31, 2007 would be swept to resounding victory by African-Americans (in South Carolina) thirteen years later, leading to his nomination by the Democratic Party for President of the United States of America. Irony abounds.

Fourteen years almost to the day after that controversial statement, President-elect Joe Biden would remark

No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday that they wouldn't have been treated very differently than the mob that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true — and it's unacceptable.

It is fitting that the two statements would both come on the same date, January 7.   They are both technically accurate- and very misleading.

No one, not even his critics at the time, argued that Barack Obama was not "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" (to run for the presidential nomination of a major party).  However, it was awkward and minimized the accomplishments and qualifications of the constitutional scholar and ex-state senator from Hawaii by way of Illinois.

Surely a group of Black Lives Matter protesters would have been treated differently. But they would not have been treated differently primarily because they were black. They would have been treated as were the white protesters of January 6, 2021 had those BLM protestors posed as great a threat as the others.

People look at the chaos, lawbreaking, and violence of the white crowd at the Capitol and expect that police response will be swift and overwhelming. By contrast, BLM protestors posed relatively little threat and hence police response would be more measured.

In a just world, yes; in the real world, no. Ironically, in the real world it's not unlikely that the reverse would occur.  University of Texas criminologist and sociology professor Michael Sierra-Arevalo explains

Tactically speaking, it would be really hard to make an arrest happen when you're by yourself. That explains why you didn't see an escalation of force, until later on, when we saw an influx of law enforcement personnel.

Law enforcement personnel were overwhelmed, for which there probably are several reasons, which a thorough investigation presumably will determine. However, they were outnumbered and overwhelmed, lost control, and had no choice but to back off, with their own lives in danger.

It's not only Joe Biden who has instantly implied that race is the reason, even the sole reason, for the disparity in treatment of the summer of '20 protestors and the January 6 mob.  And when Biden and others emphasize race to the exclusion of other factors, police and their allies come to the reasonable conclusion that they stand accused of being racist. Irony again rearing its serendipitous head, it comes from a President-elect who- wait for it- has emphasized the need for unity.

Eli Mystal, among those who attribute the differential police response to racial bias, legitimately tweets (emphasis his) in part "I don't want 'unity' or 'healing' or 'comity.' I WANT JUSTICE. I WANT FAIRNESS." 

Justice and fairness are critical. But honesty and accuracy also are important. Where racial hostility or support for right-wing Trump supporters motivated individual police officers or policymakers, let it be known and addressed, severely.  When there almost certainly are other factors, designating race as the only cause is, well, unjust.

Joe Biden made a stupid statement about race fourteen years ago. Joe Biden always has been eager to be carried along to reflect the prevailing biases of his political party at any particular stage of his career,. He made a stupid statement about race fourteen years ago. He has done so again, and it's not helpful.


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