In his run for president, Joe Biden is being heralded as a champion for equality and racial justice, but his long career in politics directly contradicts this, as it has been marked and ultimately defined by six straight decades of segregationist policies, hostility towards minority communities, and outright racism.
After he was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at the age of 30, Biden abruptly changed course on an issue on which he had campaigned: School integration through busing. Biden joined with the segregationist bloc of the Democratic caucus and actively worked to oppose school busing.
“I think the concept of busing … that we are going to integrate people so that they all have the same access and they learn to grow up with one another and all the rest, is a rejection of the whole movement of black pride,” he told National Public Radio in 1975. “[Desegregation] is a rejection of the entire black awareness concept, where black is beautiful, black culture should be studied; and the cultural awareness of the importance of their own identity, their own individuality.”
That year, Biden sponsored a bill that would limit the power of courts to order school desegregation through busing.
He even said he would theoretically support a Constitutional amendment to stop busing and, amazingly admitted that he was siding with racists in the Democratic Party.
Biden’s legislation passed the Senate on a 50-43 vote, and Biden championed his anti-busing legislation throughout the 1970s. In 1977, he co-authored a bill that dramatically limited the ability of federal courts to order busing. To get it passed, he actively sought the support of leading southern segregationists.
A report from the Civil Rights Commission released later that year determined that Biden’s efforts had badly hindered school integration. Even his now-running mate, Kamala Harris, then a young girl, was impacted, and she let Biden know during the first Democratic Presidential Primary Debate last year.
Biden insisted that his bills had nothing to do with racism, but in 1977 he said during a Senate hearing that what he feared the most if his legislation failed was his children growing up in what he called a “racial jungle” if busing led to rapid and massive school integration.
"Unless we do something about this,” he said, “my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this."
Over the next few years, Biden turned his attention from school segregation to the mass incarceration of minority communities through an even tougher approach to the War on Drugs than the Reagan Administration advocated.
In 1984, Biden championed the Comprehensive Control Act, which Vox reported “expanded federal drug trafficking penalties and civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize and absorb someone’s property — whether cash, cars, guns, or something else — without proving the person is guilty of a crime.”
Two years later, he co-wrote the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which “ratcheted up penalties for drug crimes” and “also created a big sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine; even though the drugs are pharmacologically similar, the law made it so someone would need to possess 100 times the amount of powder cocaine to be eligible for the same mandatory minimum sentence for crack. Since crack is more commonly used by black Americans, this sentencing disparity helped fuel big racial disparities in incarceration.”
By 1989, new President George H.W. Bush pledged to escalate that war and gave a nationally televised speech outlining what he called a National Drug Control Strategy. It called for “more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors,” and tougher sentences for drug dealers and users alike.
Biden delivered the Democrats’ response to that speech…and said Bush wasn’t going far enough.
Liberals saw this as a direct assault on minority communities, who were disproportionately impacted by the crack cocaine epidemic that led to a massive spike in crime rates throughout the 1980s and 1990s. When Democrats and Republicans united in an effort to reverse this trend, Biden gave a famous speech in 1993 in which he used barely coded racist language to describe who he called “predators on our streets.”
Biden helped author the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which led to dramatically higher incarceration rates across the country and, its critics contended, locked up Black and Hispanic Americans at far higher rates than whites. It was, they said, a racist piece of legislation that has devastated minority communities for a quarter of a century.
By the early to mid-2000s, Biden began getting more overt in his casually racist comments, telling a man of Indian descent in 2006 that in his home state of Delaware, one can’t go into a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts without having a slight Indian accent.
The comment was an obvious reference to the stereotype of Indian-Americans as convenience store owners, and Biden was pilloried for it.
A year later, during his second run for the presidency, he became embroiled in controversy when he described one of his opponents, then-Senator Barack Obama—a Black man—as “articulate” and “clean.”
That same year, while campaigning in Iowa, Biden said that schools in Iowa perform far better than schools in Washington D.C. because D.C. schools have far more Black students.
"There's less than one percent of the population of Iowa that is African American. There is probably less than four of five percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with," he told The Washington Post.
When Biden sought re-election in 2012, he made a another controversial remark that was widely interpreted as racist; telling a primarily Black audience that his opponents, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, wanted to enslave them.
Biden was widely condemned, including by Black members of his own party like Congressman Artur Davis.
In 2019, Biden announced a third run for President and reflected on his work in the 1970s with Segregationist Senators, which drew outrage from fellow Democrats including Harris.
Later last year, Biden came under fire for making reference to “gangbangers” when describing Black teenagers.
The same month, Biden told an audience that "poor kids are just as smart and just as talented as white kids."
This past May, Biden again courted controversy when he appeared on “The Breakfast Club” radio show and told host Charlamagne Tha God that if you are still deciding whether to vote for him or President Trump, “you ain’t black.”
Two months later, during a press conference with Black and Latino journalists, Biden said that unlike the Black community, the Hispanic community was actually diverse.
During that same press conference, Biden asked if a Black journalist was on cocaine and a junkie.
For his entire career in politics, from 1972 to today, Biden has demonstrated a consistently racist attitude that has manifested itself in casually bigoted comments as well as deeply problematic public policies. While his campaign tries to pass him off as a crusader for racial justice, he has in fact stood in its way during six straight decades of abject racism.