Former Vice President Joe Biden apologized on Friday afternoon just hours after telling radio host Charlamagne Tha God that he “ain’t black” if he had additional questions about whether to support Biden’s presidential bid over Donald Trump’s.
“I should not have been so cavalier. I’ve never, never, ever taken the African-American community for granted,” Biden said on a call with the Black Chamber of Commerce. “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”
Before Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, addressed the remark, his campaign had moved quickly to clarify it, saying that he was speaking in jest.
“The comments made at the end of the Breakfast Club interview were in jest, but let’s be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period,” Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Biden, wrote on Twitter after the segment aired.
Biden made the comment on Friday morning during an interview with Charlamagne on popular radio show “The Breakfast Club.” After being asked about his search for a vice presidential candidate, Biden first answered vaguely by saying he’s “not acknowledging anybody who is being considered” before adding that he could “guarantee” there were “multiple black women being considered.”
African-American voters are the most loyal constituency in the Democratic Party and played a key role in elevating Biden’s candidacy to the status of presumptive nominee.
Pressed for additional details, an advisor interrupted to wrap up the interview. Charlamagne then said, “You can’t do that to black media!”
“I do that to white media and black media because my wife has to go on at 6 o’clock,” Biden replied, while looking at his watch and saying, “I’m in trouble.”
“Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, VP Biden,” Charlamagne said. “It’s a long way until November. We've got more questions.”
Biden said, in an apparent light-hearted fashion: “You’ve got more questions? Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Charlamagne said it had nothing to do with Trump but was about wanting something “for my community.”
“Take a look at my record, man!” Biden responded. “I have a record that is second-to-none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I’ve run, I mean, c’mon. Take a look at the record.”
Within minutes, Trump-aligned Republicans happily seized on the moment. Hosting an impromptu call with reporters, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser on Trump’s reelection campaign, called Biden’s comment “extremely racist.”
“We hear a lot on the left, particularly in the media, about white privilege,” Pierson said. “And I think this video... of an 80-year-old man telling a young black man how to be black is the definition of white privilege.” (Biden is 77.)
She added: “He basically says, ‘how dare you,’ as if black America has the audacity to ask more questions about a candidate who is running for president of the United States.”
Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, said he was “shocked and surprised” by Biden’s remark. Choosing not to respond directly to a question about the suggestion it was said in jest, Scott said he was “struck by the condescension and the arrogance in his comments.”
“I could not believe my ears that he would stoop so low to tell folks what they should do, how they should think, and what it means to be black. That is as arrogant, and offensive, and demeaning as I can imagine in this time that we’re living,” the senator said.
A handful of Bernie Sanders’ supporters and African-American celebrities were quick to dunk on Biden for apparently assuming he had the black vote sealed.
“Aye bruh,” rapper P Diddy tweeted at Biden. “I already told you the #BlackVoteAintFree”
But other Democrats and prominent media figures weighed in delicately, with some brushing off the moment as unlikely to sway voters.
Jonathan Capehart, a Washington Post opinion writer who is African-American, wrote that it was clearly a joke when considered in the context of the 18-minute interview. His argument was retweeted by Charlamagne.
One Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign downplayed the exchange as “bubble stuff,” referring to flash moments that insiders and D.C. press talk about, but that won’t resonate widely with voters in November.
Tiffany Cross, author of Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, & Saving Our Democracy, who wrote an open letter with several prominent black public figures, agreed it was unlikely to influence votes or turnout. But, she added, “his appeal to Black voters needs to be something beyond ‘I’m better than the other guy.’”
“Biden makes the mistake of assuming he has the Black vote in the bag. He does not. He needs a ticket that will energize people,” Cross said, emphasizing for the need for Biden to select a black female running mate.
“He may feel comfortable making comments in jest. But he should know all Black voters are not yet comfortable with him. There’s still work to be done. That doesn’t mean Black voters will cast a ballot for Trump. But he doesn’t just want our votes. He has a responsibility at the top of the ticket to think down ballot. Hence, he and the party wants our votes, our dollars, our canvassing, our phone banking, our enthusiasm.”