Everybody hates Biden

OPINION: Why have Black voters suddenly turned on Joe Biden? And what does it mean for the 2024 election?

President Biden Delivers Remarks On His Administration's Efforts To  Fight Crime And Make Communities Safer
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to his introduction before speaking to police chiefs from across the country and members of his administration in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 28, 2024 in Washington, DC. Biden touted achievements in reducing crime thanks to investments made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Credit: Photo byChip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Everyone hates turnips. 

The fact that turnips rank first among my siblings’ most hated vegetables should come as no surprise. No one likes them. Unfortunately, turnips were the main crop grown in my grandmother’s vegetable garden, which meant that we’d have to eat “angry collards” every winter. But when it comes to me and my siblings, our second-most hated vegetable occupies a special place on our hate index of distaste.  

My sisters hated okra.

According to my oldest sister Seandra (we called her Sean), biting into an okra plant was like chewing on a snot rag. My grandmother would plant okra in the summer and turnips in the fall. But because a small garden can produce much more okra than turnips, we always had an abundant, year-round supply of okra. And if my mother cooked it, my sisters and I had to eat it. We weren’t even offered a choice between eating okra and not eating. In our household, you ate whatever my mother cooked or you could meet your inevitable death and see what Jesus was serving in the afterlife. So, whenever okra was served, my sister dry-heaved her way through digesting her phlegm-filled vegetable nemesis.   

Always the entrepreneur, I made a deal with Sean. Whenever we had okra, I’d eat hers in exchange for a favor to be named later (usually performing some of my assigned household chores). When my other two sisters found out about the secret okra accord, they started offering me favors to eat their okra — even though they didn’t hate it as much as Sean. 

Favors were the official currency of the Harriot household. We used our personal diaries as accounting ledgers to keep track of our intra-household favor racketeering ring. (I kinda feel sorry for my mom for buying the dairies because she thought she had finally convinced us to get into journaling). I eventually forged a favor empire that rivaled Vito Corleone’s. 

As head of the Harriot favor cartel, I lived a life of luxury and leisure. When it was my turn to wash dishes, I’d simply cash in one of my favors. I used them to control the programming on our only television set. On family trips, I always rode in the front seat. Eventually, I didn’t even have to touch favors on a day-to-day basis. For instance, if Comelita needed something from Sean, I would loan Comelita a favor to offer Sean in exchange for two favors to be named later. But it would cost Sean two favors. I was handing out bricks of favors on consignment. And because I was willing to consume my sisters’ shares of mucus plant, I could always recoup my favors on okra night. I was a favor kingpin. All favors came through me.

I was visiting my sister in Charleston, S.C., a few days ago, reminiscing about our okra-based economy. Her friends were listening, all of whom shared a mutual hate for the detested side dish. Comelita, however, explained that she didn’t like okra wasn’t as deep as Sean’s but she didn’t love it as much as I did. As she recalled, I would eat okra every day if I could.

“Wait …” I interjected, correcting her. “Who said I liked okra?” 

This story is about Joe Biden.

For Black America so loved Joe Biden, they gave him their only begotten votes.

— Media 3:16

If you read the media’s whitewashed version of the political bible, the same Black Americans who once believed Joe Biden could save the soul of democracy now want to crucify him (Of course, it depends on which translation you’re reading). Conservatives (and know-it-all Black contrarians who think they’re smarter than all those Black voters who are too dumb to know what they’re doing) will tell you that Biden waltzed into churches and barbershops and bamboozled all of the stupid negroes out of their vote. According to them, he somehow hoodwinked us by making promises he never intended to keep. Of course, this also means that our ancestors, most of the Black scholars and all the other ignorant Black sheep on the “Democratic plantation” are just wrong. Apparently, we should be listening to the white conservatives and “boomerang Black” counterrevolutionaries who actually know more about what’s good for Black people.

In the liberal media’s alternate translation, Black people actually knew what they were doing when they used their votes to replace a white nationalist criminal president with Biden. But, in this almost true version of the story, Biden betrayed his base because he did nothing for Black people. Or maybe Black voters think Biden’s too old. Perhaps they’re tired of the Democratic Party chasing white voters and taking them for granted. Maybe it’s the fault of the Democratic Party’s terrible messaging. Or maybe there’s another possibility. Maybe Black voters never loved Joe Biden. Maybe they just voted for him in the primaries because they thought he was the candidate most equipped to beat Trump (in which case, the Black voters were more correct than white voters). Maybe they voted for him in the general election because he aligned more with their politics in the same way that a majority of white voters cast ballots for Trump.

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Perhaps Black voters’ discontent with Biden is a failure of Democratic messaging. As an economist, I disagree with giving the president credit or blame for the entire economy, but Biden’s surrogates should be screaming from the rooftops that the number of Black-owned businesses has reached record levels under the Biden administration. Maybe Black voters don’t know that the Black unemployment rate and the Black-to-white unemployment rate reached the lowest in recorded history under Biden. Maybe they’re mad at Biden because they aren’t aware of the increase in HBCU funding or the fact that the Department of Justice’s civil rights division has already opened more investigations into police departments (23) and enforced more consent decrees under his presidency. It’s possible that Black voters don’t care about student loan forgiveness and stimulus checks and infrastructure and judicial appointments and even how Congress works. But there’s also another possibility.

Perhaps Black voters are criticizing Joe Biden like they criticize every presidential candidate. Black Democrats were dissatisfied with Bill Clinton’s centrist politics heading into the 1996 election. While Barack Obama was always popular among Black voters, his approval rating among Black voters reached its lowest point in the months before the 2012 re-election.

What if I told you that you don’t have to like someone to vote for them?

Everyone’s political choices come down to choosing the candidate that could best realize one’s political goals. Most voters would like a better choice for president. I’d love to cast a vote for my mother or Elizabeth Warren or Jesus or an artificially intelligent, reanimated clone of Malcolm X. But Warren, my mama or A.I. Malcolm X won’t be on the ballot in November (I don’t think Jesus meets the citizenship requirements). Joe Biden will.

Given the choice, most Black voters would rather have a young, Black, progressive president who could fight for our interests (or at least walk up a staircase without taking a tumble). The problem is, that person could never get elected president. It wouldn’t even matter who ran against Black America’s dream candidate; as soon as white people heard the word “reparations,” they’d write in “not the Black one.” Then again, if anything were possible, I’d eat a piece of fried chicken wedged between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts for dinner every night. (technically sugar is a vegetable). 

By the way, what’s wrong with Black voters criticizing their party? Isn’t that how politics is supposed to work? If politics is a tool, then political activism shouldn’t be confined to the ballot box. Black people don’t have to like Joe Biden any more than a mechanic has to love a socket wrench. But when it comes to a presidential election in a two-party system, voting is binary. By the time we reach the voting booth, there are only two choices. We can choose to not vote and consume whatever white people have cooked up for us …

Or eat okra.  

I still remember the day my okra empire fell apart.

For a reason I still cannot fathom, my mother thought it would be a good idea to start teaching us how to cook. Maybe she grew tired of cooking. Perhaps she thought her children needed to learn a valuable life skill. In any case, she would let us vote on what we’d have for every night. And, of course, okra was never on the menu. Then, on one fateful night, my mother announced that she had a taste for okra. She looked in the deep freezer and called us into the kitchen. “Where’d all this okra come from?” she asked.

By then, it had been years since my mom had even heard anyone complain about our grandmother’s free (that was the important part), garden-grown, organic, free-range okra. Sean’s initial okra conniption was a faint memory. The ability to make our own menu also severely decreased my wealth and influence, leading to a period historians refer to as the Fall of the Okra Empire. Emboldened by my lack of power and the fact that they were in charge of the family menu, my sisters finally spoke up. 

“Okra is trash,” Sean explained. “Can we eat something else?”

“Nobody likes it,” said Comelita, chiming in while Robin nodded in agreement. 

“Nobody?replied my mother. “Nobody? Mikey would beg me to cook it every night and y’all would clean your plates! But now, everyone suddenly is so anti-okra?”

My sisters simultaneously turned toward me. They had no idea that I had been secretly serving as an okra lobbyist for years. I can still remember the disgust and betrayal in their eyes as my entire favor clientele turned against me. But before I could answer, my mother interjected with the most concise explanation of binary politics that I have ever heard.

 “OK,” she said nonchalantly while putting the okra back into the freezer. As her hand emerged with a different ziplock bag, the horrified look on my sisters’ faces informed me that I wouldn’t have to explain myself.  

“I guess we’ll have spinach, then.”

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in September.

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