Former Vice President really walked into a buzzsaw Friday morning with his appearance on The Breakfast Club, uttering a stunning line that has broken the Internet and likely paused whatever momentum his campaign built up since he became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Even mere hours after the “you ain’t black” soundbite blew up, it is clear this comment could become a defining moment for Biden’s campaign, with months to go before he officially receives the party’s nomination. Here are some of the reasons why it has created so much backlash:
1. ‘You Ain’t Black’
First and foremost, the full quote: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
2. The ‘you ain’t black’ remark was not even in response to a question.
No one provoked or prodded Biden to make the statement. After a campaign aide said they needed to end the interview, host Charlamagne tha God merely gave this statement implicitly inviting the candidate back for an in-person chat: “Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, VP Biden. It’s a long way until November. We’ve got more questions.”
“You’ve got more questions?” Biden responded. “Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem…” and then the rest of it. Unsolicited. All of his own volition.
3. A campaign aide tried to end the interview 6 minutes before ‘you ain’t black.’
Around 11 minutes into the interview, the same campaign aide piped up for the first time: “So sorry, that’s our time, there.” Biden could have avoided this brutal media cycle if he did not continue talking.
4. The aide tried to end the interview after Joe said all inmates ‘can’t read.’
The reason his staffer tried to end the interview is quite obvious: Biden had just gone through a rambling monologue on changing the prison system where he said one thing “everybody has in common in jail” is that inmates “can’t read” and awkwardly repeated the phrase “You end up under the bridge.”
The former VP’s cognitive health has been a line of attack from conservatives for a long time — so much so that it was the topic of Charlamagne’s first question this morning. This aide clearly heard a soundbite that could be weaponized by the Trump campaign as more fodder for the meme of Biden’s decline and wanted to wrap up quickly. Yet the candidate pressed onward, escalating the result of this interview from slight embarrassment to what could become a “Deplorables” moment.
5. The interview was not ‘testy’ or ‘tense.’
Headlines on left-wing media, right-wing media, and local media have oddly described the interview “testy” or “tense.” Watch the whole thing, and that’s clearly not true. Charlamagne did not interrupt, did not badger his guest. He brought up subjects that are sore spots for Biden, but he was not accusatory, leaving the candidate plenty of time to explain himself without hostile followup questions. Again, Biden was not provoked or goaded into this line.
6. This was his one shot to make a good first impression to Breakfast Club listeners.
Even though Charlamagne was a respectful host, he has criticized Biden for avoiding his popular show — a rite of passage for Democratic presidential candidates — for the past nine months. Breakfast Club listeners were probably skeptical that he actually cares about them as voters, and this exchange — the timing of finally agreeing to an appearance only over Skype, plus the already-infamous soundbite — certainly hasn’t helped that impression.
7. The Woke Crowd is not having it.
The reviews are in and… oof. These are some big-name activists panning Joe’s performance. Jemele Hill. Briahna Joy Gray. Diddy. Ibram X. Kendi (author of the book How to Be an Antiracist)!!! And many, many more. Even if they agreed with the substance of the identity politics, they were clear: Biden has no business being the one to deliver this message.
8. The campaign is having a hard time finding a positive spin.
The initial strategy for damage control was total silence; for several hours, Biden’s own “rapid response” chief tried to drown out the growing backlash with anything but Breakfast Club content. Finally, senior adviser Symone Sanders floated the idea Biden said “you ain’t black” — “in jest.” So far, only the Washington Post has been willing to echo that line.
UPDATE: Joe himself has come out to concede that this defense was insufficient.
9. This did not happen in a vacuum; Biden has lots of baggage already.
Sanders went on to claim Joe, in reality, “was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day.”
But that might not be the wisest pivot, as the Biden campaign has — for now, at least — put a pause on uncomfortable questions about his record on criminal justice and race issues, and his rap sheet of racially insensitive remarks (many of which came from the current campaign cycle) is peerless among high-profile lawmakers of either party.
These accusations of racism and racial insensitivity haven’t been right-wing concern trolling; Biden took flak on this topic from virtually all of the Democratic presidential field until his comeback in South Carolina. These figures’ sharp reversals did not go unnoticed; now, the party itself risks losing credibility among black voters if it can’t figure out a satisfactory response to this Breakfast Club fiasco.