“If you didn’t vote for Biden, you ain’t black,” tweeted 2020 Florida Republican congressional candidate Lavern Spicer on Thursday, “I guess you’re a negro.” Spicer, who is black, was referring to President Joe Biden’s latest gaffe.
Delivering his first Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery to a nation reeling from the baleful effects of his failed presidency, and amid historically low approval ratings, Biden referred to the 1940s black baseball player Satchel Paige as “the great negro,” apparently because Paige could still competitively play at age 47.
Joe Biden referring to Satchel Paige as "the great negro at the time" sounds just as terrible as you'd think it would. pic.twitter.com/sZiO4ICHlJ
— ForAmerica (@ForAmerica) November 11, 2021
Biden’s history with race is, at the risk of using a woke euphemism, troubled. He is old enough to have a checkered record on segregation, having called racially integrated schools a “jungle” and a place where he would not care to send his own children. As a senator, he at least purportedly wrote and then sponsored the 1994 crime bill, which the progressive left identifies as the core federal legislation responsible for what it believes to be “systemic racism” inherent in America’s criminal justice system. More recent gaffes include the one Spicer mocked on Twitter, in which presidential candidate Biden condescended to a black interviewer, who, upon remarking to a departing Biden that he had more questions for him, was told that all black voters would vote for the future president because of the color of their skin (nearly one in five black males voted for Donald Trump in 2020). Earlier in the campaign, Biden told a town hall meeting hosted by the Asian and Latino Coalition that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
In our continuum of Biden-inflicted horrors, it is easy, fun and perhaps even cathartic to point at the addled old man and laugh. The mirth dissipates, however, when one considers how very dangerous using even less vile variants of the infamous “n-word” can be for the life and career of someone who is of less use than he to the progressive left, which now controls American language politics as well as the Biden administration’s agenda.
Using the n-word itself, even when quoting or discussing written works published long ago, is now solid grounds for dismissal from employment in the administrative-managerial caste. Columbia University law lecturer Dinah PoKempner found out the hard way in April, when she said the forbidden word aloud to a law class about hate speech while reading from the transcript of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Ku Klux Klan. In addition to the fatal consequences for her teaching career, she was also summarily fired from her job as general counsel to Human Rights Watch, a leftist advocacy organization that is unaffiliated with Columbia and her position there.
But merely uttering or even suggesting variants of the n-word, as Biden did, can also come with severe consequences. Indeed, the word “Negro” has become so pervasively taboo in our society that Larry David plausibly used it to get out of jury duty in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, while also wearing a bow tie in a bygone era when bow ties indicated sartorial allegiance to the conservative right rather than a desperate plea to be recognized as a respectable moderate.
As long ago as 2012, Petrona Smith, a New York City Spanish teacher, was fired from her public school position for using the word “negro” in a classroom language lesson about colors. Her seventh-grade accuser claimed that the word, which means “black” in Spanish, had been employed against him as a racial slur. In their infinite wisdom, New York City’s educational authorities agreed. Smith never taught again.
In 2020, Greg Patton, a professor at UCLA’s School of Business, was removed from teaching his class and placed under investigation after pronouncing a Mandarin word relevant to his lesson that contains the sequential consonants “n” and “g.” Patton’s offended students called it “hurtful and unacceptable,” denounced his “negligence and disregard” and claimed that he had harmed their mental health. UCLA’s business dean Geoffrey Garrett, who might not be described as the courageous type, agreed with the students, apologized and promised to “do better” than allow his faculty members to speak foreign languages without fear of major professional consequences.
In March 2021, two Georgetown University law lecturers resigned under duress after one of them said in a private but accidentally recorded Zoom conversation that many of her worst performing students happened to be black. The other lecturer, who said nothing, was blamed — and shared her sad fate — for not upbraiding her (Had “bystander training” really meant so little to him?!). Neither had used the n-word or any variant thereof, but the implication was just too much for their delicate colleagues and students to bear. A few months later, Georgetown’s once respected School of Foreign Service, which used to focus on training American diplomats, made “anti-racism” a “pillar” of its mission.
Just yesterday, CNN, which ignored Biden’s gaffe along with most of the mainstream media, published a lengthy article denouncing Wisconsin judge Bruce Schroeder, who is presiding over Kyle Rittenhouse’s increasingly farcical trial, for making what the leftist news outlet describes as an “inappropriate Asian food joke” prior to a lunch break, while also noting — “intersectionally,” of course — that Schroeder does not allow prosecutors to refer to people as “victims” before juries who have not yet reached verdicts in criminal cases.
Biden’s gaffe may soon be as forgotten as the debacle in Afghanistan, especially by a guileless and intimidated American right-wing commentariat that can barely stay awake past 10 p.m., let alone assert standards or call out hypocrisy with anything more forceful than the club bore’s proverbial “Harrumph”. Until it produces worthier paladins, there will be one highly permissive standard of language and behavior for our progressive governors and a much less forgiving one for everyone else.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.