Joe Biden made a curious statement Thursday at a campaign stop in Iowa. Making the case that Advanced Placement courses should be offered in all schools, the former veep said: “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
The media pounced on what they saw as another gaffe from a gaffe machine. But did Biden make a gaffe — in the sense of an embarrassing error — or did he clumsily state what many liberals believe?
Serious people used to acknowledge that barriers to progress are socio-economic and affect people of all races. Campaigning in 1968 on a platform of ameliorating poverty, Bobby Kennedy drew attention to the plight of Appalachia, visiting poor white families in eastern Kentucky as well as inner-city Detroit and Indian reservations in New Mexico.
In his 1984 bid for the Democratic nomination, Jesse Jackson spoke to rural white farmers in Arkansas, preaching that “we’ve got to move from a racial battleground — playing skin games — to economic common ground.”
But today’ s Democrats trip over themselves to pretend that all today’s problems are rooted in the refusal of white people — all white people — to acknowledge and reject their unearned privilege.
“I have enjoyed white privilege,” said Beto O’Rourke in March, in response to an unrelated question. His election to Congress despite an arrest record, explained O’Rourke, happened because “I am a white man. I had parents who had the cash to post bail at the time.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg routinely genuflects to the principle that white supremacy is America’s core problem. “I think the challenge for white America is to realize that we can’t be defensive about this,” he has said, demanding that all white people confess that they “are benefitting from living in a system that creates privileges associated with systemic racism.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has gone a step further, offering herself as an emissary to explain the concept of white privilege to the benighted white women of America. “I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is,” she said in the second Democratic debate. She promised to make female Trump voters understand that “whiteness is what protects” their sons from murderous cops.
Sen. Liz Warren, speaking at the commencement ceremony of Morgan State University in Maryland, told the mostly black grads not to expect their hard work to be rewarded by a society that has no room for them. There are “two sets of rules: one for white families, and one for everybody else. That’s how a rigged system works.” Why go to school in the first place, or bother getting a job, when skin color so overwhelmingly determines social outcomes?
In the calculus of racial privilege that the American Left has embraced, our society bestows incomparable opportunities to whites and hangs a millstone of despair around the necks of all black people. Class and poverty, which the Left traditionally emphasized, has faded in favor of an identitarian ideology that foregrounds race.
According to this view, the white child of jobless opioid addicts in Appalachia is better off than the black child of Westchester financial executives, because the former’s whiteness will magically open doors that will remain locked to the latter.
The prestige media routinely tout spurious sociological studies demonstrating this hypothesis. Black men raised by millionaires, explains The New York Times, have the same rate of incarceration as white men raised in low-income families.
The criminal history of the men in the study wasn’t addressed — it’s just taken for granted that the racial privilege of the white cohort outweighed the economic privilege of the black group, who have been unfairly imprisoned for their race.
So when Biden says that poor kids are just as good as white kids, we need to understand that the Left doesn’t believe that there are any poor white kids — because their white privilege cancels out their impoverished backgrounds. The only poverty that matters anymore is lack of white privilege. The skin game Jackson derided is the only game the Left knows how to play.
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal. Twitter: @SethBarronNYC
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