Opinion: Biden’s chickens may be coming home to roost

U.S. President Joe Biden (left), sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden (left), sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Miriam Alster/ Pool/ AFP via Getty Images/ TNS


Published: 06-01-2024 6:00 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at robertazzitheother.substack.com

This week, after publishing a column about President Biden’s appearance at Morehouse College, I received an email that read:

“... honestly I get tired of your “too white” phrase … white, black, brown, red, yellow and just colors are not people’s identities… just b/c someone was born a certain color that should not stamp them from their beginnings … I could label you or anyone who is different from me… I pray to God I don’t ... when I read your ‘too white’ words I feel as if you’re taking a brush and broadly labeling mankind, the white ones that is… and though you state it differently every time i read your words I feel I am being judged as being ‘too white.’”

I had written in my critique of Biden:

“Not that he doesn’t know these things; not that his advisors haven’t told him these things, but because he’s too white, too patriarchal, too paternalistic, too stubborn to acknowledge that the world he grew up in — a world he lives in — is not the world that exists today — and the fact that he thinks because he says it we’ll believe it is delusional and dangerous ...”

To my mind there is a difference between being “white, black, brown ... etc.,” and the embedded whiteness that has defined much of America’s national identity and governance — whiteness that persists to this day, that too many people continue to draw upon and help to defend and sustain the historical privileging of whiteness under the misguided pretense of being liberal.

Try as some may not to judge on the basis of color the reality is that we live in a nation mostly governed by the historic preferences of white people, that historically white Americans have witnessed racism at a personal level while people of color, especially African Americans, have experienced it as institutional; have experienced it as redlining, as limited-GI Bill access, as school segregation, as victims of medical experimentation.

Malcolm X, while making pilgrimage to Mecca, observed of fellow worshippers (who came from all parts of the world) that “... By looking upon themselves as human beings, their Whiteness to them isn’t the yardstick of perfection or honor or anything else. And, therefore, this creates within them an attitude that is different from the attitude of the white that you meet here in America, and it was in Mecca that I realized that white is actually an attitude more so than it’s a color.”

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I believe that while Biden believes he lives in an America of today he is informed by the America in which he came of age, an America that was too dark for too many Americans, an America of continuing discrimination, marginalization, and delegitimization of the Other that persists to this day.

An America that empowered Sen. Joseph Biden, while chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discriminate against Anita Hill and not call collaborating witnesses when she made sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas.

An America increasingly marginalized in the world because too many people, on both sides of the aisle, believe that if America says it’s true it must be true.

From the moment in 1776 when 56 mostly rich, mostly Christian white men — 17 of whom were enslavers — signed the Declaration of Independence and set in motion a system of government that, while highly aspirational, protected their privileges and interests we have lived in a nation that often still subordinates the identities and interests of non-white peoples to those of white Americans.

Since its earliest days, America has struggled to fulfill the promise that all peoples are created equal, all endowed with inalienable rights, a promise not limited to just white Americans — indeed, not just to Americans — we’ve struggled to fulfill the promises of what’s perhaps the most inspirational freedom document ever freely adopted by humankind.

America struggles still, and some images persist in my memory.

I remember, for example, that in 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was often perceived as being too Black, had to disavow his long-time minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., because of a sermon Wright had preached on September 16, 2001: “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall - America’s Chickens Coming Home to Roost.”

I remember too, for example, that President Obama had to bend a knee to Whiteness and host a beer party of reconciliation in the White House’s Rose Garden for both Dr. Henry Louis Gates (who was racially profiled because he is Black) and the white policeman who had arrested the Harvard professor on Dr. Gates’ own front porch.

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

From my perspective, my friend, believing as I do that the dark demons of racism and prejudice not only still exist but are a resurgent threat to our very existence I fear for our future.

I fear that President Biden, an institutionalist of long standing, has both failed to understand that we have moved from the tyranny of assimilation to an understanding of the richness and diversity of a multicultural America.

I fear, too, as I witness the Biden Administration’s embrace of Israel’s disproportionate and genocidal attacks on occupied Palestine, an America where our government becomes so unapologetically complicit with war crimes against a people unlike ourselves — against a brown people the color of a Jew named Jesus who embrace a faith, a language, a culture unlike our own — that it doesn’t recognize what it is becoming.

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Biden is a different person than he was during the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings but I’m not convinced that he is able to set aside a lifetime commitment to constitutionalism, even liberal constitutionalism, to understand or embrace the intersectionalism of today.

Today, frankly, I fear Biden’s chickens may be coming home to roost. That does not augur well for either white people or for people of color, for America or the world, certainly not well for either Palestinians or Israelis.