One of the reasons my relationship with Twitter is hate-love is because far too many people pop off about things without having read or listened to what they are commenting on in its entirety. Tweets become triggers for outrage that would be better directed at something worthy of opprobrium. If context is a victim of social media then it is downright murdered on Twitter.
I’m railing about this because of the 18-minute interview between former vice president Joe Biden and the Breakfast Club radio host Charlamagne tha God. What has been described as a “testy exchange” between the popular African American interviewer with 2.1 million Twitter followers and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was nothing of the sort.
Believe it or not, Charlamagne is one of the best interviewers of politicians around. He is not shy about telling them at the start that he’s been critical of them, as he did with Biden. Yet, Charlamagne holds feet to the fire without being an insufferable jerk about it, which gives the interviewee room to answer tough questions. That was on display when he pushed Biden on whether the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted; on his support of the 1994 crime bill; on Biden’s assertion that that law “didn’t increase mass incarceration, other things increased mass incarceration”; on why Biden would not atone for his role in the crime bill as Hillary Clinton did on the show four years ago; on decriminalization of marijuana rather than legalizing it, and on the push for a black woman running mate.
As you might imagine, Biden did a lot of the talking. But Charlamagne did a lot of nodding as Biden walked through his biography, defense of the good things from the 1994 crime bill and policy proposals for the future. Twice, a Biden staffer attempted to end the interview that was taped on Thursday, not for pernicious purposes but because Jill Biden had a virtual organizing event with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms set for 6 p.m. The first time was at 11 minutes into the conversation. But Biden pushed through and talked for another six minutes. The second time came at the 17-minute mark right after Biden said, “I guarantee you, there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple.”
After the staffer’s second try, Charlamagne said, “You can’t do that to black media.” He said it leaning into the camera as Biden said, “I gotta do that to white media and black media because my wife has to go on at 6 o’clock.” Glancing at his watch, Biden said, “Uh oh! I’m in trouble.” Charlamagne laughs and asks that Biden come see the Breakfast Club crew in New York because November is a long way off and they have a lot more questions. “You got more questions, but I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden said with a smile on his face.
When heard in the context of the previous 17 minutes and 21 seconds, you know that Biden is joking around. Perhaps he got a little too comfortable talking to a community with which he has a strong relationship that spans decades. Add to that being the vice president to the nation’s first black president and you know his affinity with black folks runs deep.
Also, only the willfully obtuse could not see that Biden was nodding at the belief among an overwhelming majority of African Americans that President Trump and his policies are detrimental to the health, safety and well-being of the black community. Saying someone “you ain’t black” in this context is the equivalent of questioning my blackness back in March because I hadn’t seen the 1990 movie “House Party.” It’s more of an exasperated “Where’ve you been?!” as opposed to “You’ve been voted off the island.”
I look forward to Biden’s return to the Breakfast Club. Charlamagne will continue to press Biden on the crime bill and other issues facing African Americans. And Biden will have another opportunity to ask black people for their votes.
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