Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: The Problem With Joe Biden

As far as I’m concerned, the “problem” with Joe Biden is that he is a 78-year-old white man. That may also be his greatest strength: he is a “reformed” 78-year-old White man.

Being a white man of any age usually means being unalterably wired to think that white males are beings superior to all others in The Creation. That is far from the truth.

Being a reformed white man, who recognizes the errors of his past ways is a fairly worthless prize as well. Two such men I came to know, come to mind.

First, I met Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1978. I traveled with him to Col. Muamar Qaddafi’s Libya in a peace delegation of 100 or so from this country in 1978. Fulbright, a former Arkansas senator, earned seniority in Congress by being elected as a white segregationist. He energetically opposed civil rights legislation. That’s what senators from the South did.

But Fulbright changed, and by the time he took us to Libya, he was a beacon of peaceful reconciliation. He boldly diplomatically engaged with Qaddafi who was one of the staunch leaders of the Arab “steadfastness and rejection front.” The front included the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria, Iraq, Algeria and South Yemen, and they opposed the peace deal Egypt’s Anwar Sadat negotiated with the United States and the apartheid state of Israel.

Fulbright changed his wicked ways, became an advocate for peaceful U.S. intervention, and established an ongoing scholarship program that sends graduating seniors to countries all over the world with grants to foster intercultural relations and cultural diplomacy. Good for him. But he still did not move the needle very far when it came to Libya, which was eventually rendered a failed state by U.S. military intervention authorized by President Barack Obama.

The other reformed white man I met was Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act, resulting in a substantially weaker bill than its supporters had proposed.

I met Byrd at Harpers Ferry in 2006 at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Niagara Movement, the precursor to the NAACP. Byrd told us that his “come to Jesus moment” was when his teenage grandson, whom he loved dearly, faced death after an accident, and he, a mighty member of “the world’s most deliberative body,” was powerless, absolutely powerless, to help the child. He said he resolved then that he wanted to be remembered for acts of kindness, and not for having been a Ku Kluxer.

Among his acts of contrition, Byrd was an active supporter of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1984.

So Biden comes in that tradition. In 1994, he was one of the principal authors of President Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and thousands and thousands of Black folks felt the hammer of the law fall on them within the U.S. criminal (in)justice system — notable because, in the words of comedian Richard Pryor, it seemed to involve “just us” in its tangled web.

Biden’s repentance came in the form of his eight-year apprenticeship under African American President Barack Obama, although I would credit Obama with being clever enough to realize that his career would be well-served having a wizened older white man — better than any other demographic — by his side as vice president.

Biden is now president, not only because of his honorary “Black Card” earned as Obama’s heir, but because Black voters turned out in droves to vote for him in 2020 in critical places where they stayed home when Hilary Clinton was on the ballot. Then, in January, Black voters did the impossible again and elected two Democrats to the Senate from Deep South Citadel Georgia, giving Biden a chance to get a 51-50 majority in votes in the Senate.

Biden is now trying to walk the walk as well as talk the talk concerning some domestic priorities which are vital to Black progress in this country — he supports statehood for Washington, D.C., he supports HR 40, a commission to study reparations payments to Black folks for their free labor during slavery, he has appointed the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history and some of his spending priorities have targeted vulnerable areas in Black America.

But Biden is still a white man, and in the words of The Last Poets, “the White man’s got a God complex.” Biden needs to listen more to Black scholars and leaders who think “outside the box,” and instead of telling the world the U.S. is “back,” back to assert its imperial will, he must recognize that America’s “salvation” comes from abandoning white power thinking and bloated military budgets, and especially recognize that radical Black voices like that of Minister Louis Farrakhan, for one, are not the problem, but in fact have the solution to this country’s problems.

Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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