Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Michael Eric Dyson

The Record Player Answer

Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate delivers the record player answer
Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate, September 12, 2019. Credit: ABC News/Screenshot

There are so many things wrong with Joe Biden’s record player answer, I hardly know where to begin. But I am a trial lawyer. So when I hear a strange answer, my first response is check what was the question. So, here’s the actual question:

“But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Again, I’m a trial lawyer. So, there are 4 correct answers to any question:
“Yes,”
“No,”
“I don’t know,”
“I don’t remember.”

Biden did not pick one of those 4 answers. He could easily have said, “Yes, I think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery and here’s what I think we need to do.” Or “No, I don’t think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery. And let me tell you why not.” Instead, he started rambling.

This Is What He Said

Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. From the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out – the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need – we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are – I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have – make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not day care. School.

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t – they don’t know quite what to do.

Play the radio, make sure the television – excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the – the – make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school – a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

How Did He Ever Get There?

So, he started with institutional segregation and ended with shaming Black families for not knowing “quite what to do” when it comes to raising children.

Now, I’m the first to acknowledge raising kids is hard, for some of us the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Every gray hair on my head has nothing to do with trying cases for 30 years – I owe them all to raising my own daughter Malika.

I’m also clear, however, that the challenge to raise independent productive and kind children has little to do with your race, class or education. Indeed, suicide rates for young people in America are soaring in recent years. And, how many mass shootings in the last 30 years in America have been carried out by Black teens? To my knowledge, the mass school shooters are almost uniformly white male teenagers. Most of them came from so-called “good homes” which is code for straight white married parents.

But I digress. The point is that Biden’s answer is not even remotely responsive to the question. It sounds like “Black lives are still undermined by the legacy of slavery because they don’t know quite how to raise their kids.” That’s both stupid and insulting.

The question, again, is what responsibility do Americans bear, not Black people. While most commentators focused on “the record player answer,” woke Black folks heard the implicit bias and victim-blaming.

The Legacy of Slavery

News alert Mr. Biden: Black people are not responsible for America’s racism.

Black people are responsible for the incredible wealth that America enjoys today. 250 years of free slave labor, another 100+ years of extreme exploitation of labor, and the last 50 years of second-class citizenship (being locked out of equal access to education, affordable housing, health care, high-paying jobs) has all helped white Americans tremendously. Everything Black people have achieved in America came at a premium. In the last 100 years, we paid more for loans, housing, transportation, food, health insurance, health care, education, you name it.

On the flip side of that same coin, in the past 400 years, whites have enjoyed what we refer to today as “white privilege.” Starting with the Land Act of 1820 which made it possible for settlers to move west and south through the 1950s, whites received massive government subsidies for housing, transportation, health care and education.

Whites enjoy preferential treatment in the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice. This fundamental principle is embedded in the pillars of the justice system. White privilege is reflected in the arrests, charging, prosecution and incarceration of Black people everyday in every state, county and community in America.

Joe Biden either doesn’t know our history or he doesn’t really care to address it. Maybe he really does not understand what is now commonly referred to as “the wealth gap.” The fact that an average white family has 41 times more wealth than the average Black family, that 72% of while familes own their homes compared to just 44% of Black families, and the average white worker earns 30% more than the average Black worker – did not just happen overnight or by happenstance.

The Record Player Answer?

Biden could have at least tried to be consistent. He could have repeated his statement from 1975 (which was the preface to the question):

“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today for sins of my own generation and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

But it’s no longer “politically correct” to shield oneself with the mantle of white privilege. To be fair, a recurring theme in Barack Obama’s major speeches on race as President was the “moral shortcomings” of the Black family. In his work “The Black Presidency,” author Michael Eric Dyson calls out this message in the few times that Obama talked to the nation on race in America. (See Chapter 6, “Dying to Speak of Race”.)

Perhaps Joe Biden “helped” Obama write those speeches. I don’t know. What I do know is that just like Black people should not tolerate “victim blaming” by Obama or before him, Bill Cosby, we damn sure should not tolerate it from Joe Biden.

It’s also simply not acceptable to equate poverty with Black people. Even Black people who have been financially or professionally successful still experience the demeaning face of racism daily. Black people are disproportionately poor due to America’s racism. But poverty is endemic to capitalism in America. Income inequality between the wealthiest 1% of the country and the rest of us (the 99%) has increased dramatically in recent years. This national crisis was highlighted in the Occupy Movement in 2011 while Joe Biden was Vice President.

Biden’s assumption that the only poor people in this country are Black people is an antiquated view of our current situation, consistent with someone who thinks we still have record players.

The question is “what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?” The record player answer does not even come close to looking like an analysis of the problem. Joe Biden needs to study the history of racism in America and the continuing inequities (including those he fostered), then try to answer the question. Until he does that, Black folks in particular would be wise to consider the alternatives.

As Maya Angelou taught us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Time to “Bern” America

Black American Soldiers In Vietnam (1971)

This coming Saturday April 27th, I will co-host a bilingual house party with Andrea Luna for people to learn more about Bernie Sanders campaign for President and sign-up to volunteer. After much soul-searching, I have decided and declare that I’m all in for Bernie Sanders.

“The Fierce Urgency of Now”

Killer Mike caught my attention when he asked the question on the Real – do you like and respect Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? His analysis is that Bernie’s agenda most closely matches the agenda of Rev. King.

In the years right before he died, Rev. King talked about the need to transform America. In his book “The Black Presidency” Michael Eric Dyson reports a conversation in 1966 where Rev. King told his advisors that “[t]here must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” We know that King was murdered as he was organizing the Poor Peoples March on Washington, and unifying people across race, religion and class with the goal of eradicating poverty in America. Rev. King did not live to see the March. He knew that his days were numbered. One of his most famous statements is “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

In America today, there is no time to wait. Certainly not for anyone who cares about Black people. In 1966, Rev. King declared that “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” According to a 2016 Kaiser report, Blacks have significantly higher death rates than Whites for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. HIV and AIDS diagnoses rates among Blacks between ages 13-64 are more than eight and ten times higher than that for Whites. The death rate for HIV is eight times higher for Blacks compared to Whites.

The Kaiser study also found that in 2014, 71% of Whites were insured privately and only 21% had Medicaid or public insurance. By comparison, 51% of Blacks had private insurance, and 37% had Medicaid or public insurance. We know that the substantial gains made under the Affordable Care Act are being wiped out by Trump.

In 2019, Black women are disproportionately suffering high and increasing infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2019, too many people in America of every race and gender have to choose between filling a prescription or buying food. The high cost of health insurance means that many people simply cannot afford health care. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy.

Enter Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist. Bernie is undeniably the leader on national health care reform. The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United went to the mat for him in 2016 because of his position on health care reform. Every other candidate today is sailing in his wind and mimicking his commitment.

In 2009, the Democratic Party abandoned single-payer, and even as late as 2017, many House Democrats did not support Medicare for All.

Consistent Values & Commitment

Bernie Sanders has been consistent on health care reform, civil rights and opposition to war, some of the biggest issues we face today. He has a plan to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country, an issue that I care deeply about.

Bernie Sanders Arrest In Civil Rights Demonstration – Chicago (1963)

Bernie’s arrest during a 1963 civil rights protest of segregation in Chicago schools when he was a student at the University of Chicago resonates deeply with my personal history. At the University of Chicago, Bernie was a leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights group and led protests over racial inequality.

As a Senator, Bernie voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and warned of “unintended consequences.”

As the conscience of the country, in 1967, Rev. King condemned the Vietnam War and warned about “the Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” As a result he was labeled “an enemy of the State” and ridiculed on all sides.

My True Confessions

One, I am not an original “Berniecrat” from the 2016 presidential campaign. Two reasons: (1) I was dealing with seismic shifts in my personal life in that season; and (2) an elderly White male senator from Vermont was not someone who caught my attention in time for me to do anything to help him.

Two, I knew Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate. I witnessed how she and Bill treated Lani Guinier and Marianne Wright Edelman. I witnessed Hillary’s complicity in the Monica Lewinsky episode – how they treated “that woman.” I watched the proliferation of criminal injustice laws and new unfair tax burdens imposed on victims of unlawful discrimination under the Clintons’ leadership. I watched how they ran against Sen. Obama. I heard Bill’s racist comments and Hillary’s disappearing-reappearing Southern drawl.

Three, I went “hard to the paint” to elect Barack Hussein Obama as the first Black president. In 2008, Hope Young and I went to ground zero – Dayton, Montgomery County Ohio – and walked, talked and worked to the point of exhaustion. Election night, as we eagerly watched the results coming in and started to party to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, I confessed to my friends that my greatest joy in my commitment to Obama was not about him, but the fact that Michelle Obama – a Black woman – was going to be the First Lady. 

The Time Is Right Now

As we move forward in 2019, the time is now and there is a fierce urgency. My father often said “time waits for no man.” The California primary is less than a year away. Yes, I need Bernie to call out sexism and racism more, and to focus on equity in addressing the impacts of centuries of racial inequality. But, I appreciate his consistency and I hate hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, I agree with Killer Mike (and Nina Turner and Danny Glover): “we need the total antithesis of what we say we don’t like about Donald Trump.” We need more than simply “any functioning adult” to help us get out of the mess we are in. I believe that loyalty to the legacy of Rev. King requires all out support to elect Bernie Sanders in 2020.

Whether or not you are sure about what to do in this moment, I urge you to attend one of the many house parties taking place on Saturday, April 27th around the country. Go to map.berniesanders.com to find a house party near you! Don’t wait – get it done now. “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

A Luta Continua!

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