BY: ABBY CRUZ, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Amid the fallout from comments by former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden about a lack of diversity of thought and heritage within the African American community, some worry that a pattern of blunders could impact support within the Black community.
Biden drew criticism on Thursday when he compared the diversity of African American and Latino communities at a pretaped virtual talk with the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
“What you all know, but most people don’t know. Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” Biden said. “You go to Florida you find a very different attitude about immigration in certain places than you do when you’re in Arizona. So it’s a very different, a very diverse community.”
Just hours after the taped remarks, during a live discussion with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Biden reiterated similar comments: “We can build a new administration that reflects the full diversity of our nation, the full diversity of Latino communities. And when I mean full diversity, unlike the African American community and many other communities, you’re from everywhere. From Europe, from the tip of South America, all the way to our border and Mexico, and in the Caribbean.”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said it’s important to acknowledge that Black Americans, including those with roots in the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and the American South have cultures that should be celebrated.
“To diminish those cultures and the richness of those cultures is such a wildly ignorant thing to do and insulting on so many levels,” said Williams, who is the son of immigrants from Grenada. “But I wish I was surprised.”
After receiving backlash for his comments, Biden later took to Twitter to apologize for the comments.
“In no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith — not by identity, not on issues, not at all,” Biden wrote. “Throughout my career I’ve witnessed the diversity of thought, background, and sentiment within the African American community. It’s this diversity that makes our workplaces, communities, and country a better place.”
Biden took heat in May after comments he made during an interview with “The Breakfast Club” radio show, in which he joked that if African American voters support Trump over him in November, they “ain’t Black.”
Some argue that these comments could have an impact on turnout for voters who aren’t enthusiastic about Biden’s candidacy.
“It’s an erasure of Black immigrants, it’s a conflation of the Black experience, it’s ignorant,” said Nadia Brown, a professor of political science at Purdue University and author of “Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making.” “Biden is not doing himself any favors and the people that are captive Democratic voters, who have no other option but to vote for the Democrat or stay home, aren’t enthusiastic about him.”
Nneka Apachu, the founder of AfriPAC, a nonpartisan political group that aims to improve policies affecting African immigrants in the U.S., said the stakes are too high to care about Biden’s gaffes, pointing to Trump’s travel bans from some African countries and attempted repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I can’t imagine another four years of this, I can hear a million gaffes,” said Apachu. “But the suffering that I’m seeing right now with my people, it’s not worth [jeopardizing a Biden win].”
There are 2.3 million eligible Black immigrant voters in the U.S., about 10% of immigrants eligible to vote, according to Pew Research. Black immigrants vote at roughly the same rates as U.S.-born Blacks. Black voters overall, both immigrants and U.S. born, overwhelmingly identify with the Democratic Party. Only 7% of Black voters report they are Republican or lean toward the Republican Party, in comparison to 87% who say they identify as or lean toward the Democratic Party, according to a 2016 Pew Research study.
Among those criticizing Biden’s language was Trump, who has focused on courting African American voters with his “Black Voices for Trump” initiative. The president said in a tweet that Biden was “no longer worthy of the Black Vote,” though Trump has often been criticized for racist comments, including recently referring to a Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower as a “symbol of hate.”
Williams, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary, but said he will vote for Biden in November, believes that Biden’s comments illustrate an insensitivity to Black people.
“It is just who he is. He obviously is better than Donald Trump,” said Williams. “But we didn’t have to settle for that.”
Still, he urges voters on the fence to turn out for Biden.
“Those folks shouldn’t stay home. Those folks should come out,” he said.
There are several Black members of Congress, all Democrats, who are immigrants or are the children of immigrants. Most didn’t respond to ABC News’ requests for comment on Biden’s statements. Staff for Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., whose father was from Bermuda, declined to comment on Biden’s statements.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., whose mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, endorsed Biden’s presidential bid in February. He believes Biden’s comments were misconstrued.
“Vice President Biden’s comments were taken out of context, he was in no way suggesting that all African Americans are the same — not by our identities or the issues we care the most about,” Horsford said a written statement to ABC News. “A big reason why I was an early supporter of his campaign is his extensive work on these issues while in office, in which he championed diversity of thought, celebrated different backgrounds, and has always maintained a sincere relationship with the Black community.”
Biden campaign co-chair Rep. Cedric Richmond told ABC News that Biden apologized to ensure that people know he understands why people called his language “problematic.”
“He’s the first to admit that he doesn’t always articulate exactly what he’s meaning in the way that he means it,” said Richmond. “And so what real leadership is is you acknowledge when something comes out wrong, you correct it and I think that he did that immediately.”
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