Biden's Use of the Word 'Boy' Sparks Hot Debate

Former senator says he could work with opponents in the 1970s and '80s
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2019 3:15 PM CDT
Speech on Civil Segregationists Doesn't Go Over Well for Biden
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves to local residents after a stop at the Tasty Cafe, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Eldridge, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Joe Biden has received an earful after fondly recalling the civility of Southern segregationist senators in the 1970s and 80s. The former vice president told people at a New York fundraiser Tuesday about working with Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia: "At least there was some civility," Biden told the crowd of about 100, NBC reports. "We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you're the enemy. Not the opposition—the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore." Biden said he realized that his interest in "bringing people together" makes him appear "old-fashioned" to other Democrats, per the Washington Post. Those comments and others sparked criticism and confusion:

  • Biden raised eyebrows by saying that Eastland, who is white, "never called me 'boy.' He always called me 'son.'" The Post was unable to get a response from Biden’s campaign about why he mentioned the word—a racial epithet used against black men—when Biden is also white. Eastland called black people an "inferior race" and said integration would lead to "mongrelization."

  • Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 rival of Biden's, wants an apology: "You don't joke about calling black men 'boys.' Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity," he said in a statement. Biden's "relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone."
  • New York Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio, another Democratic candidate, posted a photo of his multiracial family on Twitter. Biden "is longing for the good old days of 'civility' typified by James Eastland," de Blasio wrote. "Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal."
  • Connie Schultz, a journalist married to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, tweeted, "There is no punchline here, no emoji or funny meme to soften the harm of your words. That segregationist never called you 'boy' because you are white. If you want to boast about your relationship with a racist, you are not who we need to succeed the racist in the White House."
Biden's campaign declined Wednesday to elaborate on his remarks. In the past, advisers had cautioned him not to cite Eastland as an example of someone he could work with, per CNN. One person close to the candidate said, "He needs to use a new, less problematic example." (More Joe Biden 2020 stories.)

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