At an appearance in Danville, VA Tuesday, Vice President Biden made a comment about putting “y’all back in chains” that has divided Americans, among them the President’s own supporters. Jesse Jackson has blamed the gaffe on the 24-hour news cycle he did not deny the racial content of the statement. Former Governor Doug Wilder, also an Obama supporter, criticized Biden for dividing the audience by race.
Meanwhile, other defenders of the Vice President have attempted to claim Biden couldn’t have meant what he said since he was speaking to a largely white audience. But video from the event shows the crowd was roughly split between black and white Americans, matching the demographics of Danville itself.
Appearing on CNN this morning, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver downplayed Biden’s statement saying the context of the speech made a racial interpretation of Biden’s comments improbable:
When you look at the video that you just showed, there’s only a sprinkling of African-Americans there clearly the minority in that crowd. If he were at some kind of NAACP, SCLC event or some group with just African-Americans, I would say maybe he tried to generate some thoughts about things gone by. In that setting, it made no sense.
Rep. Cleaver is no stranger to controversy. He is the congressman who claimed he’d been spat on by Tea Party members on the day the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress. Video showed that Cleaver had walked inches from a man who was shouting through cupped hands and been caught by spittle. Cleaver also claimed to have heard the N-word directed at Rep. John Lewis that day though no video or audio evidence of that was ever found by anyone who investigated the claims.
Rep. Cleaver’s response Thursday echoes one by Roland Martin two days earlier. Martin, also appearing on CNN, said “in the video that I saw, if you play that video back, I see more whites in that video behind Biden when he was talking than I saw African-Americans. And so, if the room was half black what was he basically saying to all the white folks in the room, I’m not talking to you all right now?”
But video of the event shows that the demographic make-up of the crowd roughly approximates the make-up of the town of Dansville itself. About half of the people attending the rally appear to be black.
Of course this still doesn’t explain why VP Biden thought a racial dog-whistle about “chains” would go over well with the crowd, the vast majority of whom presumably don’t see political disagreements as tantamount to a return to slavery. In fact, if you listen to the reaction to his line, it is not applause but a combination of surprised laughter and boos. Perhaps a few people in the audience found Biden’s remarks apropos but the majority, both black and white, seemed more shocked than impressed. Americans can be grateful that the people of Danville have more sense than the sitting Vice President.