Biden apologises for controversial remark on undecided black voters

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, seen here at a rally at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in March, drew ire after saying in a radio show on Friday that he felt there was no reason black Americans would consider voting for Presid
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, seen here at a rally at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in March, drew ire after saying in a radio show on Friday that he felt there was no reason black Americans would consider voting for President Donald Trump.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Former United States vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has apologised for telling a radio host that black voters torn between voting for him and President Donald Trump "ain't black", remarks that ignited a firestorm online.

"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," Mr Biden said in a call with the US Black Chambers on Friday. "I shouldn't have been so cavalier."

He later said he had not been expected to join the call, a possible sign of a hastily arranged appearance.

Mr Biden's remarks came hours after a testy exchange with Charlamagne Tha God, a host on The Breakfast Club, a nationally syndicated morning show popular with black millennials.

In the interview, during which he sidestepped a question about marijuana legalisation and his running-mate selection, Mr Biden also made it clear that he felt there was no reason black Americans would consider voting for Mr Trump.

"If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Mr Biden said.

The remark sparked immediate pushback on social media, with liberal activists and conservatives alike jumping on Mr Biden, 77, for acting as the arbiter of blackness. His words also exposed wounds among Democrats that date to 2016, when many leaders felt the party took black voters for granted.

"I don't take it for granted at all," he said later on Friday.

"No one, no one, should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background. There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don't think so. I'm prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line, and it was, it was really unfortunate."

This is not the first time he has had to walk back a remark related to race. Last summer, after weeks of criticism, he apologised for reminiscing about working relationships with segregationist senators.

Despite that and a series of other controversies throughout the primary, Mr Biden was the overwhelming favourite of older black voters, who played a central role in reviving his candidacy after bruising early losses.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'Biden apologises for controversial remark on undecided black voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe