Joe Biden

Joe Biden speaks at the Galivants Ferry Stump in South Carolina in September.

— AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

While polls suggest Joe Biden leads among Black voters, please read the fine print. Although Barack Obama’s vice president touts his African-American support by saying “I think they know me,” in reality that support is conditional, more specifically generational, and therefore flimsy and tenuous.

Biden enjoys widespread support among older Black adults, leaving some younger Black voters to try to persuade their parents and grandparents to change their ways and shift their vote for the 2020 election.

Black millennials and Gen Z-ers are proactively attempting to sway their elder family members away from Biden and toward progressive candidates, as the New York Times reported in September. While it’s unclear if the attempt to specifically sway older Black voters is working, according to an October Quinnipiac poll, Biden’s support among Black registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters has dropped 17 points since their July poll.

Biden has downplayed this Black generational gap, suggesting the votes of older and moderate Blacks are all he may need to get him over the top. However, it should come as no surprise that Biden has a young Black people problem.

While his age, 76, has been mentioned as an issue, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are also in his age group — and yet their age, until Sanders’ recent heart attack, has not emerged as a factor.

But what has proven a roadblock for Biden’s support among young people of color is the shelf life of his mindset, his decades-old sentiments on race, society and politics that seem to lock him into the 1960s and 1970s. Add to that Biden’s perceived persona of white moderation that tells Black people we should move in baby steps rather than seek aggressive and immediate change.

During the third Democratic debate, when asked about slavery and reparations, Biden responded with references to Black parents unable to raise their children, and by telling them to “make sure you have the record player on at night.” At that moment, Biden sounded out of touch — more like a white man blaming Black people for their oppression.

While Obama sometimes lectured young Black people, as he did during his 2013 commencement address to Morehouse College, he was able to get away with it because he was the Black president, familiar with the hardships that Black Americans face. And although Biden enjoys touting his proximity to Obama, it comes off as condescending when the former vice president addresses the Black community about inequalities that plague it.

When Biden recently spoke at an LGBTQ presidential forum, he appeared out of touch with present-day criminal justice realities by insisting yet again that his 1994 crime bill did not increase mass incarceration.

“That act was overwhelmingly supported by the African-American community, overwhelmingly supported by the community at large. Everyone from Ted Kennedy on voted for it. It did not have mandatory life sentences in it. That wasn’t what it was about,” Biden argued.

Yes, the bill was supported by many Black leaders at the time. And yes, studies have shown that incarceration rates were on a steady incline prior to the bill. But to repeatedly dismiss arguments that the bill had a role in increasing the mass incarceration rates, and how it continues to impact communities of color, is shortsighted.

For young Black voters the denial of the crime bill’s effects may bring to mind how it had a part in creating a flawed criminal justice system that allowed for the killers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Philando Castile to walk free while many people of color are serving lengthy prison sentences for doing far less.

A tone-deaf Biden once said that young people — not specifically Black — who think these days are as hard as the 1960s have no right to complain.

“The younger generation now tells me how tough things are — give me a break,” he told the Los Angeles Times last year. “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

Perhaps Biden would have more credibility had he not been one of the most ardent supporters of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which makes it exceedingly difficult for people to discharge their student loan debt when they file for bankruptcy unless they can prove undue hardship.

America is suffering from a $1.65 trillion student-debt crisis amid soaring tuition rates. Blacks are hit particularly hard, with 85% of Black college students holding debt compared with 69% of white st`udents. Black people owe an average of $34,000, which is $4,000 more than their white counterparts.

And, according to the Brookings Institution, Black students have three times the default rate. The racial wealth gap means Black people have less accumulated wealth and borrow more than whites, and, as victims of institutional discrimination, are targeted by for-profit institutions.

A new generation of Black voters does not need lectures on parenting skills or how to win the contest for Black respectability. Young Black adults are spending their time supporting their families and raising their children.

They are struggling against the impact of climate change that will hit their own communities hardest, while also fighting racial injustice and mass incarceration exacerbated by the 1994 crime bill Biden championed with pride. Not to mention, Black voters are suffering from a historic loss of wealth since the Great Recession — a subprime mortgage crisis from which homeowners, unlike Wall Street, never received a bailout.

When Biden speaks virtuously, as he did in June, of his history of compromising with white segregationist lawmakers, he harkens back to a time when Black people were excluded and invisible. After some backlash, Biden first said that his comments on that were taken out of context, then he said he regretted the remarks.

But for young Black voters watching the recent rise of white nationalism, Biden’s history of being “civil” with segregationists (his word) is alarming.

As the 2020 election heats up, Biden may be feeling confident about securing the Black vote, but it would be a mistake for him not to think about younger Black voters, an influential part of this crucial voting bloc. For them, “President Biden” is not a solution to the social, economic and environmental issues that they face. — (CNN)

David A. Love is a writer, commentator, and journalism and media studies professor based in Philadelphia. He contributes to outlets including Atlanta Black Star, ecoWURD and Al Jazeera.

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