In the course of the Democratic primary, almost every candidate has been accused of racism: Elizabeth Warren for claiming to be Native American, Michael Bloomberg for enacting stop-and-frisk, Pete Buttigieg for firing a black police chief, Kamala Harris for prosecuting drug offenders, and Bernie Sanders for opposing open borders.
But no one has been called a racist more insistently than Joe Biden, a politician who rose to prominence in part by opposing federally mandated busing and supporting a crime bill. Last June, he spoke of the need for civility by recalling his ability to work with segregationists. Kamala Harris criticised the remarks at a debate later that month, solidifying the image of Biden as the racially regressive candidate.
That image was challenged last week by his decisive victory in the South Carolina primary, the first contest in which black voters made up a majority. Three in five black voters supported Biden. The runner-up, Bernie Sanders, received the support of one in five. Sanders did much better with black voters under 30: 38 per cent supported him, compared with 36 per cent for Biden. But this showing was far weaker than Sanders’s performance among whites under 30, where he won an impressive 56 per cent.
South Carolina is more rural, religious, and conservative than many other states. But on Super Tuesday Biden once again won black voters, beating out candidates who have more carefully observed progressive racial pieties. How could the candidate perceived to be most backward on race enjoy some of his strongest support among black voters?
One reason, much discussed, is Biden’s association with Barack Obama. Another is the endorsement he received from Jim Clyburn, a black veteran of the civil rights movement and the dean of the Democratic Party in South Carolina. Another reason, too often overlooked, is that black voters are now less progressive on race than white liberals. In the last decade, a “great awokening” has transformed white liberal views on race, immigration and sexuality.
Zach Goldberg, a PhD candidate in political science at Georgia State University, has found that 78 per cent of white Democrats now believe that “having an increasing number of many different people of different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities” makes the US a better place to live. Only 57 per cent of black Democrats agree.
A similar divide exists on immigration. Twenty-nine per cent of white Democrats believe that the US should imprison someone who has been deported and then re-crosses the border illegally, compared with 41 per cent of black Democrats.
About 30 per cent of black respondents to the General Social Survey disagreed with the statement, “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up; blacks should do the same without special favors.” Forty-five per cent of white liberals disagreed.
By the current standards of the progressive Left, black Americans are more racist than white liberals. Progressives may explain this absurdity as a result of false consciousness, an internalised oppression that black voters will over time and with the right guidance abandon in favour of more correct opinions (which just happen to be the opinions of white liberals).
According to another view, “wokeness” is merely a higher form of what would otherwise be called white supremacy. Darel Paul, a professor of politics at Williams College, has coined the phrase “wokeness is whiteness” to express his “considered conclusion that wokeness is as central an element of white culture, white privilege, and white supremacy as is anything identified by formal wokeademics, wokeaucrats and wokeultants”.
White liberals are one of the most affluent and socially dominant groups in the country. One way they obscure this fact is by stoking fears about downscale whites, who (however objectionable their opinions may be) do not control the commanding heights of our society. Denouncing them diverts attention from the far more real “white privilege” of the immaculately progressive tech exec. Because elite interests are now thoroughly identified with a regime that celebrates “diversity”, anyone who challenges these interests is accused of abetting racism or supporting white hegemony – usually by whites with more power than he has. If all this is true, then anyone who opposes white identity politics should oppose identity politics tout court.
Progressive activists claim that Joe Biden represents the party’s past, not its future. They are probably right, but their idea of the future may be more agreeable to white liberals than to the black voters whom white liberals claim to serve.
Can the Right exploit the growing divide between these two groups? Anyone who hopes for a multiracial, working-class, patriotic conservative party has to hope so. But it would require a very particular sort of candidate: someone with an entrepreneurial spirit and an uncanny sense for what’s next; someone with credibility in the black community and broad popular appeal; someone who instinctively rejects political correctness while appealing to people of every race. In short, it would take someone named Kanye West.
Of course, this is an idle fantasy.
Voters would never support a celebrity with zero political experience, a checkered personal history, no verbal discipline, and a photogenic wife.
Matthew Schmitz is senior editor at First Things
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