“They’re gonna put y’all back in chains.” Vice President Biden may have thought he was talking about Republican economic policy in front of an audience with several African Americans in attendance, but to many, he was talking about race.
The mention of chains — especially in the presence of African Americans — is powerfully evocative of the era of chattel slavery of black people in the US. It is also, potentially, in poor taste. Yet the Vice President received an enthusiastic response from the audience when he said it.
Mr. Biden has subsequently said he used the word “chains” extemporaneously, citing the use of “unshackle” and “unchain” as a common Republican verb choices in describing GOP-proposed rollbacks of economic regulatory laws.
Is this race baiting? Does the Vice President get a free pass because his boss is black? Why might a white man dropping “y’alls” and “chains” be considered to push the boundaries of taste, when President Obama has been commended by both liberal and conservative voices for his ability to tailor his speech to a given audience’s cultural norms?
Ange Marie Hancock, professor of political science at USC
Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University, and former candidate for Maryland US Senate seat in 2006