Joe Biden: 5 things to know about his surprising views on school desegregation
“Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?” he said in a 1975 interview.
During Sen. Joe Biden‘s nearly 40 years in Congress, his early stance on school desegregation took a backseat as he became known as a champion of the working-class and for civil rights.
But amid talk of a potential bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, his views on desegregation could face renewed scrutiny by “today’s Democratic Party,” according to The Washington Post.
Specifically, a 1975 interview with the Newark, Del., publication, the People Paper, could come back to haunt him.
‘It was printed in the Congressional Record at the request of Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), who praised Biden’s comments and went largely unnoticed thereafter,” The Post wrote. “A Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic pointed out the original interview to The Washington Post, citing a concern that Biden’s positions could be problematic for the party.”
Here are five things to know from the interview:
- Biden denied ‘the persistence of overt racism’ in his opposition to busing
He was very vocal about being against “sending white children to majority-black schools and black children to majority-white schools,” The Post wrote.
Further, he downplayed ‘the persistence of overt racism” and argued that the government should play a limited role in integration.
“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers,” he said in the interview. “In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race. I don’t buy that.”
- Busing is a failed experiment
The former vice president, who served under the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, was right to be against busing and continues to believe so, Biden’s spokesman, Bill Russo, told The Post.
“He never thought busing was the best way to integrate schools in Delaware—a position which most people now agree with,” Russo said. “As he said during those many years of debate, busing would not achieve equal opportunity. And it didn’t.”
Russo tried to beat back criticism of Biden’s comments, citing his civil rights record, including involvement in desegregating a movie theater and working at a black swimming pool in Delaware.
- Called desegregation ‘the most racist concept you can come up with’
“We’ve lost our bearings since the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case,” Biden told the People Paper. “To ‘desegregate’ is different than to ‘integrate.’ . . . I am philosophically opposed to quota systems. They insure mediocrity.”
He said busing was racist.
“The new integration plans being offered are really just quota systems to assure a certain number of blacks, Chicanos, or whatever in each school. That, to me, is the most racist concept you can come up with,” Biden said. “What it says is, ‘In order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son.’ That’s racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?”
Russo clarified that Biden believed that everyone should be offered the opportunities.
“Regardless of what zip code you’re born in, you should be entitled to a good education,” he said. “That’s the point he’s making here.”
- Biden challenged at a court order in 1974 that included plans to desegregate schools in Delaware
This order was not supported by many of his “constituents” but in 1978, schools in Wilmington, Del., implemented a plan to join an urban district with 10 suburban ones, along with busing student. That effort allowed students to spend nine years in what was known as “historically white school.” They spent the other three years in what was known as a “historically black school.” By 1995, the schools were desegregated.
“The courts have gone overboard in their interpretation of what is required to remedy unlawful segregation,” Biden said in the 1975 interview. “It is one thing to say that you cannot keep a black man from using this bathroom, and something quite different to say that one out of every five people who use this bathroom must be black.”
- He believed busing was bad for Blacks and whites
Biden believed tensions would rise between Blacks and whites after students of color experienced classrooms on the other side of the so-called tracks.
“An African American child is sent to a white school in a wealthy neighborhood, then ‘back to the ghetto. How can he be encouraged to love his white brothers? He doesn’t need a look at ‘the other side,’ he needs the chance to get out of the ghetto permanently,” Biden said.
Although Biden doesn’t appear remorseful about his views on busing, he admitted that he regrets some of his actions and thoughts in the past, including his support of “tough-on-crime measures” and his “weak efforts” during the Anita Hill case, according to women’s rights advocates.
Since the nation is now more diverse, only time will tell what Democrats think about Biden’s views on busing and desegregation, especially in this election season.