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In a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday, Joe Biden hailed “two of the great artists of our time representing the groundbreaking legacy of hip-hop in America, LL Jay Cool J, uhh ...” The crowd laughed, but Biden had a comeback. “By the way, that boy — that man’s got biceps bigger than my thighs.”
Calling a 55-year-old black man a “boy” recalls a scene from “Blazing Saddles.”
“Now what the hell do you think you’re doin’ with that tin star, boy?” says Taggart (Slim Pickens).
“Watch that ‘boy’ s**t, redneck,” says Bart (Cleavon Little). “You talkin’ to the sheriff of Rock Ridge.” Fans of the movie should know that Biden’s “boy” gambit was not an isolated case.
In 2020, Biden told Charlamagne tha God that “you ain’t black” if the radio host couldn’t tell the difference between him and Trump. Listeners might wonder what Richard Pryor, one of the writers of “Blazing Saddles,” would have done with that. This scene from “Silver Streak” suggests some possibilities, but there’s more background on Joe Biden’s approach to black people.
“Although I and my colleagues behind me revere the Senate, Robert C. Byrd elevated the Senate,” said Vice President Joe Biden during the July 2010 memorial service for the West Virginia Democrat who passed away at 92 after an eventful life. Back in 1975, the Atlantic billed Byrd as “The Man Who Runs the Senate,” while skipping details about Byrd’s career as a community organizer for the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1942, when he was 25, Byrd formed a new Klan chapter in Sophia, West Virginia, and in 1944 Byrd wrote to segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi Democrat: “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.” Byrd claimed he left the Klan, but racism never left Byrd.
In 1967, Byrd voted against the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1991, when embattled Bush nominee Clarence Thomas pushed back against the “high-tech lynching of uppity blacks,” Byrd dismissed it as a “diversionary tactic.” Then-Senator Joe Biden joined the former Ku Kluxer in voting against Thomas. Nearly 20 years later, Biden was still looking up to the man who, in his view, not only elevated the Senate but embodied it.
“Robert C. Byrd was a parliamentary library, a keeper of the institution of the Senate, and he was the institution itself,” Biden said. “For a lot of us, he was a friend, and he was a mentor and he was a guide” — though within limits. As Biden explained, when he ran for president in 1988, Byrd told him, “I don’t want any senators running for president because you never come back and vote when I need you.”
As Biden said, “So I made a promise that no matter where I was, if he called me and said he needed my vote, I’d drop whatever I was doing and I’d come. And I kept the commitment.” The former Ku Kluxer’s wish was Joe Biden’s command, and the Delaware Democrat also had a soft spot for segregationists.
Biden praised Sen. John Stennis, known for long-standing resistance to civil rights, and worked with Sen. Jim Eastland against busing. Biden refused to apologize for working with segregationists such as Sen. Herman Talmadge of Georgia and even suggested that Sen. Cory Booker apologize to him for questioning his commitment to civil rights.
And don’t forget his comments about Barack Obama in 2007.
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Biden apologized, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the comment was “highly suggestive.” So is calling LL Cool J a “boy.”
With Joe Biden, it’s all about memory against forgetting. For further research, check out the October 12, 1991, “Saturday Night Live” sketch on the Clarence Thomas hearings, with Kevin Nealon as Biden. It holds up remarkably well.Lloyd Billingsley is the author of “Hollywood Party,” “Barack ’Em Up: A Literary Investigation,” and “Yes I Con: United Fakes of America.” He has written for the Wall Street Journal, FrontPage magazine, and many other publications.
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