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Racial Analysis of the Vice Presidential Debate: Joe “Angry Black Man” Biden

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 at 1:11 am

Attributing Angry Black Man status to an irreverent and emotional Joe Biden is dangerous. At the end of the debate, I read many posts on Vice President Biden’s ability to act out the Angry Black Man – suggesting that it is a role that our President could not easily play and one that President Obama should play. This requires serious racial analysis since the Angry Black Man ideology is one of the many ideologies that supports and maintains White Supremacy and White Supremacist values. Let me take the time to briefly explain.

Why is calling Emotional Joe Biden an Angry Black Man dangerous? First, it puts an unnecessary expectation on our President. When have we ever seen President Obama become unhinged, emotional, or angry? It’s unfortunate that we WANT to see President Obama become angry, like he is supposed to BE angry. I think I can count the number of times on one hand when we have seen our President be a little “off” including his debate with Romney. Why is anger an expected emotion for a Black President to possess when he never exhibited this trait during his Presidency? In fact, many have enjoyed his cool passion and swag.

Secondly, by focusing on the Angry Black Man that President Obama isn’t, we ignore who Joe Biden has been and continues to be – a Vice President who comes out of pocket on many occasions. In fact, many of us EXPECTED to see this side of him come out tonight and why many of us made sure to watch the Vice Presidential debate. I have heard in the past week “Can’t wait to see what Crazy Joe is going to do!” and other phrases like this. Interestingly, even though Joe Biden was expected to play Crazy Uncle Joe, media pundits acted surprised that Joe Biden exhibited this behavior – even though he has been this way all along. Why are they surprised? Even Saturday Night Live makes fun of Joe Biden’s behavior. Did they think he was going to be different tonight? But I digress. Yes, Biden’s White Privilege allows him the ability to express the way he wants without getting maligned too much for it – but this doesn’t mean that this side is the Angry Black Man side. Biden isn’t Black the way Clinton isn’t Black. We continue to call Clinton our First Black President because of some characteristics he demonstrated in public, despite policies he implemented that perpetuated the disenfranchisement of People of Color. This breaks down Black people and People of Color to a set of characteristics rather than whole human beings.

Finally, by reinforcing that Emotional Joe Biden is able to be an Angry Black man, are we saying that President Obama was originally supposed to be an Angry Black Man? To say that Biden could be the Angry Black Man that Obama cannot be, means that we as People of Color also believe that inherently, we are angry people of color. Now, don’t mistake my analysis for a misunderstanding of White Privilege and how it operates. Having been called an Angry Hispanic Woman on several occasions, I am fully aware of how expressing my emotions is not only unacceptable but damn near dangerous sometimes. But I don’t think I was born to be an “angry Latina” – in the same way that I don’t think our President or other Black men were born into the role of angry black men. We experience dignified rage, we fight against social injustice, and we get the diminished “Angry Person of Color” status. I am not just angry and I am not just an emotion – I am a race worker, someone who fights toward racial justice, someone who employs her anger to move this work. To believe and uphold Angry Black Man ideology is to uphold one of the several ideologies that sustain White Supremacy and White Supremacist values. Can we imagine our Black President to be angry? Of course! We all can be angry! But to attribute Angry Black Man status to an emotional and irreverent Joe Biden contributes to the dehumanization of People of Color and in particular Black people.

White Supremacy is not just the belief that white people are superior. Racist beliefs undergirds the practices and policies that create and maintain a system of White Privileges. One of these privileges is the ability to express emotion without getting penalized in employment, education, and other important social capital. Angry Black Man status is an ideology, a misconception of Black people specifically and People of Color generally, that is not only maintained by white people but also by People of Color when we start calling emotional white people Angry Black Men. If we want to begin the process of dismantling White supremacy, we as People of Color must understand origins of Angry Black Man ideology – understand that this is a racist misconception – a cultural deficit attributed to People of Color and emotional white people – and reframe what Angry Black Man really is – white folks’ imagination gone wild, fearing the worst in Black men and people of color. And we, People of Color have internalized this – a sign of internalized oppression.

As People of Color we must critically analyze how these ideologies maintain oppressive systems in order for us to begin the road toward racial justice. Let’s begin by questioning why we call emotional white people Angry Black Men.

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