Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions, relationships just do not work out. The two parties involved cannot see eye to eye on at least one issue important to them both; sometimes, there are more. The two try to “talk it out,” but they remain entrenched in their own positions. They do not hear each other because they do not listen to each other – i.e., they hear the words being said by the other but they do not have the capacity or desire or perhaps either to internalize what the other is saying – which is what “hearing” is about. Each grows more and more frustrated, then angry, and then finally give up. There is no common ground, no large enough area for them both to stand on, and they end up walking away from each other.

It is the failure of Vice President Joe Biden to hear what Senator Kamala Harris is saying which is causing the seemingly unending conversation about busing. Harris has said that she does not believe that Biden is a racist, but she is adamant about him not understanding what his – and other white lawmakers’ – stance on busing meant for her as a black child. Contrary to her “attacking’ him, as the media and Biden himself have charged, Harris took an opportunity to challenge Biden on his actions as concerns racism and busing that caused a lot of pain for a lot of black people. There really has been no need for Biden to be defensive. He was entrenched in a system of white supremacy that was bold in its attacks against freedom and equality for black people. He was part of the group that resented federal intervention in trying to get schools to desegregate – so that black children would have the same opportunities as did whites. It was really black children who suffered; it was they who were bused miles away from their homes for the most part, into neighborhoods and schools that did not want them. That is the way it was. White America was incensed about Brown v Board of Education and was adamant that they would not obey the law.

But it was the children, especially the black children, who suffered, and Senator Harris was one of those children. She spoke from her pain; she spoke from her raw experience of having to act like she was not afraid, or bothered, or maybe even angry that she and others had to be taken by a bus to an all-white school because state and local governments would not do what needed to be done to get enough funding for predominantly or all-black public schools to make them as top-notch as were white schools. The federal government stepped in because the U.S. Supreme Court had made a ruling, a law, that said “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. Schools for black children were not only separate but totally unequal, and white-run governments were not going to do anything about it.

When between couples there is a disagreement of this sort, it takes one of the two parties involved to stand down, to stop talking and start hearing. When the other person feels affirmed, the tension goes away or at least greatly diminishes, and the relationship has a chance of being saved. It often is.

But when both sides dig their heels into their positions, the outlook for the relationship is bleak. In our country, white people have often thought that the complaint of racism has been overused, forgetting that racism and white supremacy were written right into the Constitution. They do not see because they do not want to see what white supremacist laws and policies have done to black children for hundreds of years. To say that black children have an equal opportunity to be successful as do white children is to admit that one has no clue about the power of white supremacy. All of us – black as well as white – have been taught history and social values according to the white supremacist model, but white supremacists have had the power to make and enforce laws that have ensured that they will remain in power, no matter what. One only has to read one of Jonathan Kozol’s books on the state of education for black children in this country to understand how grave is the issue of substandard education –  which includes dilapidated buildings, old books, and insufficient supplies –  for black children, even now, 65 years after Brown v Board of Education passed.

The issue would be quelled if Mr. Biden would say, “You know, I did vote that way. I thought that way back then, about busing. But I have evolved and I have changed how I think about it…and I don’t understand how the whole busing debacle affected black children but from what you are saying, I see that it was very damaging. I cannot undo what I did and how I thought back then, but I can say, moving forward, that the lessons I learned back then will help me in anything I do going forward…

Or something like that.

That Mr. Biden is so defensive is a problem. Until someone stands down, the media is going to continue to spin this story, day after day after day after day. Senator Harris exposed her pain from being bussed. Mr. Biden would do well to acknowledge it, affirm her as a person who has succeeded in spite of white supremacy, and continue to get to the business of running for president. Not reconciling this issue will only be bad for them both, but perhaps more for Mr. Biden because black people do remember the pain of being the objects of scorn and hatred – just because we wanted our children to get a good education.

This is no time to be wrestling with irreconcilable differences – especially when it comes to racism.

A candid observation…

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