Mere hours after the 1,700 women of color closed out the She the People Forum in Houston, Texas, former Vice President and white moderate Joe Biden launched a video announcing his presidency. Centering his message on reinvesting in the greatness of America and the equality of “all men,” Biden lays all the problems in America at Trump’s feet.
The takeaway from Biden is that defeating Trump will restore America. Biden leaves himself wide open to being challenged on what America is he restoring, and for whom?
Last month, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) launched a video opening with a reference to the Star-Spangled Banner. While directly tackling Trump, Gillibrand also expanded on her vision to move the country forward. Aside from the obvious comparisons to Senator Gillibrand’s “Brave Wins” campaign launch video (seriously, he ripped off almost her entire video), Biden offers voters nothing and simply trades on tragedy while positioning himself as the great white hope. Just simply a promise that he’s the guy to take out the bad guy in a very John Wayne, all-American-hero kind of way.
Biden’s use of the pain and terror from the 2017 riot is completely on-brand for a self-absorbed candidate who thinks his presence is merely enough. Across the country, we have seen a rise in white nationalist terror. and while there is certainly a need to address the vitriol and rhetoric coming from Trump, it does not start and end with him.
There is something gross about a man who once eulogized Storm Thurmond anchoring his Presidential announcement in Charlottesville.
— blackness everdeen 🍋 (@traceyecorder) April 25, 2019
Charlottesville Minister Seth Wispelwey broke it down in a twitter thread about the use of Charlottesville footage.
— Seth Wispelwey (@RevSethDub) April 25, 2019
Throughout his launch video, Biden reinforces a common myth that white supremacy is some fringe occurrence and only bad people like Trump support it. However, as University of Wisconsin professor Stephen Kantrowitz wrote last year, this false notion absolves many guilty parties of wrongdoing.
“The myth that white supremacy is a marginal political phenomenon has proved so durable that many people find it easier to deny its overt expression than confront a more troubling reality: ‘very fine people’—and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well—have always been central to the work of advancing white supremacist causes.”
The hubris and arrogance in this run alone is enough to turn heads. It’s telling that white liberals and moderates center their moral grounding in the ideal of an America that was conceptualized by wealthy white male landowners and slaveholders.
The word salad tossed around by Biden in his three-minute launch video appeals to the sensibilities of those who have been content ignoring the continuing vestiges of racism and discrimination ingrained in this country’s fiber. Biden’s 2020 campaign is essentially the MAGA of liberalism, with white liberals wishing to return to the good old days of blissful ignorance and not being made to confront the harsh realities of the system as a whole.
Continuing to center this conversation as only something bad racists like Trump do, and not the nice Republicans who have happily carried out Trump’s agenda, fails to address the deep roots of the issue being named. Biden isn’t concerned about challenging the status quo — he is the status quo.
Biden’s attempt to breathe renewed life into the American ideal by whitewashing history is not surprising. He is the white moderate Dr. Martin Luther King warned us about in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which took the white moderate religious community to task for purporting to be allies of the civil rights movement while simultaneously cheering Sheriff Bull Connor and his dogs for maintaining “order.”
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice,” King wrote in 1963.
With his launch, Biden sends a clear message to those who are ready for things to go back to “normal,” and the people who constantly try to tell us that what is happening under Trump is “not America.” All the denial in the world cannot change the stark realities of this country and its long legacy of deeply ingrained white supremacy. Just 51 years ago, for example, it was illegal for interracial couples to even be legally married. Even in 2019, an award-winning black news anchor lost her job just for wearing her natural hair.
But Biden’s launch tells us something else — it is a reflection of the uncomfortable white moderates who need a white moderate of their own to run. The presumption that a milquetoast middle-of-the-road white man is necessary to win in 2020 is an extension of white supremacy. “Electability” arguments are grounded in notions of value and worth centered through a lens of whiteness and white comfort. Building on the winning coalition that saw major gains in 2018 midterms, we are not suddenly going to go backwards under Biden’s lead.
No matter how diverse the hires, Biden continues to be the standard bearer of the status quo and systems that benefit from systemic oppression of Black and Brown people. Do not be fooled by diverse campaign hires with impressive titles. Biden is not for us.