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An Open Letter to Joe Biden on Race

We need the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to be better than Trump. But we also need him to be better than himself.

Dear Mr. Vice President Joe Biden,

You showed up in public on Memorial Day weekend for the first time in weeks and I breathed a sigh of relief. Your visit to the veterans memorial in Delaware was dignified as you and your wife donned black masks and paid your respects. You drew the mockery of President Donald Trump who retweeted Fox News’ Brit Hume, saying next to a photo of your masked face, “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today.” Your response was appropriate calling out Trump’s disdain for masks during a pandemic as being “falsely masculine,” and “stoking deaths.”

Congratulations. Your conduct over this 48-hour period is of the sort that is needed from you for the next several months. But just days earlier you said something unconscionable during your interview on “The Breakfast Club” when you told African American host Charlamagne Tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Joe, if you have a problem figuring out that your statement was exactly the wrong thing to say, you are part of the problem in Trump’s America. That statement exposed your decades of difficulties in understanding race relations in America and illustrated just how easily you felt you could skate by for so long on your white male privilege.

You walked your comments back quite swiftly saying hours later, “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy. I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.” But frankly the damage was done as the Trump campaign jumped on your comments gleefully selling T-shirts adorned with the words #YouAin’tBlack. It doesn’t matter that Trump is a white supremacist president whose record on race is far worse than yours. What matters is that your comments gave fodder to an unethical president whose campaign will not stop at anything.

Your base-level task is to be better than Trump for the next few months and with your comments on “The Breakfast Club” interview you nearly failed to meet this extremely low bar.

But frankly it is not enough for you to be just better than Trump. We need you to be better than yourself.

For years you have coasted on a type of privilege that older white men of your generation, your class, and your political clout have enjoyed for decades. You have worn the cloak of being a straight-talker but you have failed to adequately challenge the unjust status quo.

And yet today, you are the bearer of the entire nation’s hopes of avoiding a second term of the most destructive president in American history. This is a heavy burden to bear, and many of us wish you didn’t have to bear it because frankly we worry that you are not up to the task. You are standing on the shoulders of progressive giants like Senator Bernie Sanders whose sweeping vision for a more just country has inspired millions of Americans to demand better from their government.

You know deep down inside that Sanders’ vision is the future of America and that is why you have begun taking tentative steps toward adopting some of his bold ideas. But that is not enough. You have claimed you would raise taxes on the wealthy that Trump lowered but you set the bar for the “middle class” at those making $400,000 a year—yet another indication that you are out of touch given that the median household income in the U.S. is a mere $63,000 a year.

Don’t try to fool us into thinking you’re progressive. We can see right through you. Even the New York Times pointed out that you have, “at times, oscillated between moderate policy proposals and embracing the rhetoric of systemic upheaval, a choose-your-own-adventure strategy which can allow progressive and moderate allies to see in… [your] campaign what they want.”

Joe, we need you to be better than Trump. But we also need you to be better than yourself.

You have dodged many bullets, the most serious of which is your past behavior with women. Somehow you have managed to convince millions of Americans that your obviously inappropriate insertion into the personal space of women, coming dangerously close to unwanted sexual coercion, is part of a past that you have now learned from.

Somehow your allies and supporters have all but discredited allegations of sexual assault by a former staffer of yours Tara Reade. Perhaps the list of sexual assault accusations against your rival Donald Trump may protect you from greater political damage, but don’t count on it. One of your tasks over the next few months—and then if you win, over the next four years and ideally the rest of your life—is to treat women like human beings worthy of dignity and respect. Can you do that, Joe?

You have swept your horrendous behavior toward Anita Hill under the rug. You have gotten a pass on your support for the 1994 crime bill. You have relied on American amnesia about your role in the destructive Iraq war. And here you are, ready to take on the worst, most violent, narcissistic, and pathological president in history. But are you in fact ready?

The entire liberal corporate media corps has built a fortress around your greatest weaknesses for many months. But there will be moments like the one you had on “The Breakfast Club” where you may trip up and chip away at the most fragile edifice upon which your candidacy stands.

Joe, please, for goodness’ sake, don’t fuck this up.

Voters are tired of being berated by media pundits who claim we should not possibly discuss any of your weaknesses because it plays right into Trump’s hands. To that I say, Joe, are you willing to face reasons why you are not a better candidate?

Voters are tired of being told to play the game of choosing the “lesser of two evils” every time you mess up by holding up Trump’s daily horrendous behavior and incessant lies and asking us to choose between your ineptness and his violence.

Joe, at this rate, a dog in a suit would be a better president than Trump. We know that as flawed a politician and person as you are, you would be a better president than Trump, but in order to convince enough Americans, you have to ensure you are not your own worst enemy.

Think before you speak. Pause before you touch. And then be bold where it matters—for our lives, our jobs, our prisons our health care, our schools, our borders.

I would never have chosen you to represent us. But others with greater political influence made that choice for me because they were so terrified of the progressive platform of Senator Bernie Sanders. Representative Jim Clyburn chose you. Your colleagues on the presidential debate stage, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Mike Bloomberg chose you.

When you seemed to be the unstoppable presumptive Democratic Party nominee, I wrote that you would be the “impulse buy” candidate that voters would come to regret. Democrats were told to get on board with your candidacy for the greater good of defeating Trump—and it terrifies me every time you’ve come close to fulfilling my prediction that we’ll end up with another four years of Trump as president anyway.

Please choose to be the masked, dignified Joe Biden.

Please adopt the bold, progressive ideas of Bernie Sanders.

Please try not to be a bumbling racist, groping former vice president who requires an army of damage control every time he makes an appearance.

You cannot afford to be yourself because you are not and have never been good enough. Stop being yourself and rise to the challenge. This is not about you. This is about our entire nation.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

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