On the very day that he was kicking off his own run for the White House, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware) stumbled badly. Speaking of Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and his potential candidacy for President and his prospects of being the first African American to hold the office, Biden told reporters that Obama was, "the first mainstream, African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy."
I have no idea what Mr. Biden meant. I do know where he was coming from, and that scene is not all goodness and light.
It is true that Senator Obama, elected by a wide cross section of Illinois voters to the U. S. Senate with a large majority, rises from the mainstream of the American political process. Thankfully, his emergence is a sign of improving racial attitudes in the nation. Previous African American Presidential candidates have stepped forward from the margins of our political process. (Although, Jesse Jackson won my precinct caucus vote in the 1984 Democratic Primary when we lived in Richardson, Texas!)
Where Biden slipped up, and actually revealed an insight into the struggling soul of the nation, was in the remainder of his statement.
Did he mean or imply that no candidate before Obama possessed any of these characteristics? In his apologies that went on the rest of the day on Wednesday, he seemed to deny that he meant his words to be taken in that way. I have no doubt that he didn't mean for us to take his statement this way, but what informed his observation in the first place?:
Actually, Biden may have done us all a great service. In fact, Senator Obama's almost instant popularity may be a reflection of the same beliefs and ideas that Senator Biden expressed yesterday without much thought.
Over the course of our history, countless African Americans have possessed the qualities necessary to serve as effective leaders of this nation. Unfortunately, the expressed and unexpressed biases of our national community have stood squarely in the way.
As we move toward the 2008 election, it seems more than realistic to think that we may finally elect a black President.
Race matters in this nation. Race and racism are still very large issues.