Sixteen years ago, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and much of the Gulf Coast region, rapper Kanye West went on a televised benefit for Katrina victims and told America that, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
The comment about the then-president wouldn’t have been the only moment from Katrina that sparked racial divide, but heaven knows it’s the one that immediately pops to mind when the subject is broached.
With that in mind — and with Hurricane Ida drawing so many comparisons to that storm — one would have thought President Joe Biden would have received numerous reminders from his handlers that he needed to be on his best behavior when it came to race.
It’s not just that echoes of Katrina’s racial politics would be a catastrophic blow to an administration already battered by its disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. It’s also that Biden has a history of, in his less-guarded moments, saying things that would kill a Republican’s political career in an instant:
“Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
Those are just some of Biden’s greatest hits. Trust me, there are other deep cuts where those came from. I have to surmise that someone, somewhere in the corridors of the White House not-so-gently reminded our president about his history, Katrina’s history and why both needed to be avoided.
Instead of remembering those things, the current president couldn’t even get past the introductions during a Monday news conference on Hurricane Ida before he called a 47-year-old black man and White House senior adviser “a boy.”
BIDEN: “I’m here, uh, uh, eh, the FEMA’s director’s on, uh, uh, FEMA Director Criswell, she’s on. And I’m here with, uh, with my senior adviser and a boy who knows Louisiana very, very well, man, and, and New Orleans, Cedric Richmond.” pic.twitter.com/kCm33nykma
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 30, 2021
“I’m here with my senior adviser and, uh, boy who knows Louisiana very, very well, man, and New Orleans, Cedric Richmond,” Biden said.
Richmond, a former Louisiana congressman, represented most of New Orleans for 10 years in the House of Representatives before he took a job as a Biden senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
He was, as The New York Times noted when he was appointed shortly after the election, “poised to become one of the highest-ranking Black officials in the Biden administration.”
Times reporters Katie Glueck and Jonathan Martin also noted that Richmond “maintains an extensive political network and is known for delivering candid advice.” The first element might be helpful for keeping Biden’s use of a derisive racial term from becoming a defining moment of Ida.
The second might be helpful if he takes Biden aside and reminds him never, ever to call a black male over the age of, say, 13 a “boy” — if not to avoid being offensive, then to avoid tweets like these:
Cedric Richmond is a 47 year old man.
While Ja’Ron Smith was 38 years old when he was in a similar role for President Trump I can assure he was not called a “boy” by President Trump.
Joe Biden just continues to insult Black men openly and in public because he doesn’t care. https://t.co/LdTQ6CrTFb
— PARIS (@PARISDENNARD) August 30, 2021
Not only does Biden not sound great here, but also called Cedric Richmond “boy,” something the left would lose it if he were a Republican: “I’m here with — with my senior adviser and boy who knows Louisiana very, very well — man — and — and New Orleans, Cedric Richmond.” pic.twitter.com/T11qNAGJhu
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 30, 2021
How DARE Joe Biden call Cedric Richmond “boy”?
Cedric is 47 years old. He’s nobody’s boy!
What a rude, condescending RACIST!!!
You just know he wanted to call him a “N” but knew that wouldn’t go over well.
What a sick, racist man Joe is.
— Lavern Spicer (@lavern_spicer) August 30, 2021
And it’s also not as if Biden isn’t keenly aware of what that word means — and the reactions it provokes.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden’s first real controversy involved his work with Southern segregationists on anti-busing legislation in the 1970s. One of these was Democratic Mississippi Sen. James Eastland.
“He never called me ‘boy.’ He always called me ‘son,’” Biden said during a speech, according to The Washington Post.
The Post added:
“Biden’s campaign didn’t immediately return a request for comment about why it would be notable that the Dixiecrat — who thought black Americans belonged to an ‘inferior race’ and warned that integration would cause ‘mongrelization’ — didn’t call Biden ‘boy,’ a racial epithet deployed against black men.”
Biden was unapologetic about his work with these Dixiecrat dinosaurs, saying, “at least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done.”
That civility comment hit many Americans the wrong way, particularly because Eastland’s most famous comment was anything but civil when it came to civil rights.
“In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking n*****s … African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives … All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead n*****s.”
But at least he respected Biden; Eastland never called him “boy.” Biden would apologize, because of course he did. The media have mostly wallpapered over that moment, because of course they have. They’ve done it this time, too.
Do you think Joe Biden is a racist?
The two big mainstream outlets that reported on Biden calling Richmond “boy” were Fox News and the U.K. Daily Mail, both right-leaning establishments. Left-leaning Mediaite also reported on it, and The Hill noted the comment in its coverage without remarking on the racial implications therein.
There’s been nothing like the kind of firestorm that would have taken place if that same word had come from a President Donald Trump — or any other Republican.
To the extent we don’t need a racial bloodletting like we saw over Katrina, one might say this mainstream media forbearance — blatantly hypocritical and dishonestly partisan as it is — might actually be better for America. The problem is that when Joe Biden is given a mulligan, it’s not as if he learns.
After decades of problematic racial remarks — that 7-Eleven quote was from 2006 — Biden cannot stop making racial references that would end the average Republican’s career. Eventually, the mainstream media will have to take notice, because it’s almost inevitable one of these remarks will come at a time so inopportune that it’ll rend the cultural fabric of America.
We’ve seen how the mainstream media’s unquestioning attitude toward Biden’s competence had to shift when Afghanistan became a humanitarian disaster. If Biden can’t learn from his mistakes, they should.
In a moment with echoes of Hurricane Katrina, Biden couldn’t resist calling a senior adviser, a man who once represented the city of New Orleans in the House of Representatives, a “boy.”
He didn’t need Kanye to racialize Hurricane Ida. Heck, he didn’t even need 30 seconds.
We’re in a moment where we sit atop a cultural powder-keg, partially of the mainstream media’s making. There are pretty good odds one of these little racial Uncle Joe-isms will eventually blow the whole thing up.
If they can’t hold him accountable before he does that, the blame will belong as much to them as it will to Joe Biden.