President Joe Biden is known for taking pride in his Irish roots. However, a new bombshell book has shed light on his ancestors’ history of slave ownership and other racial murkiness that have caused the Democratic politician’s history to be fraught with complexities.
In an upcoming book entitled, “The Bidens: Inside the First Family’s Fifty-Year Rise to Power,” Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger explores how Biden, a long-time politician, rose to power.
But, a part of his rise involves an emphasis on his ethnicity.
Biden not only has Irish ancestry, but he is Catholic as well. The only other Catholic president in this country was John F. Kennedy. Proudly, he has built his persona around being both. At the end of his vice presidency, he commissioned his Irish genealogy and released it to the public.
He is a regular at St. Patrick’s Day gatherings, had the White House fountain dyed green in March, visited ancestral sites in Ireland and frequently mentions his Irish Catholic background and belief system in his speeches.
However, the constant reminders of his ethnic background move past simple pride and wade into an insidious method of gameplay to benefit himself.
After Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Biden was a young up-and-coming senator. His Irishness allowed him to ride the wave of his predecessors’ public charm.
He would eventually use it to try to bridge a gap between Irish Catholics and regular white Catholics so that the Democratic party could rebuild its numbers.
In other words, being Irish Catholic was his brand.
“The Washington press corps ushered me to town as a kind of poor Kennedy cousin: I was Irish, Catholic, young, toothsome,” he said in his 2007 memoir “On Promises To Keep: On Life and Politics” in reference to his first wife and infant daughter being killed in a car wreck shortly after his 1972 senate win.
But Biden, like every other human being, has more than just one lineage. His paternal line, which he also commissioned, was never released. Shreckinger’s book may give clues as to why that is.
Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jesse Robinett, owned enslaved people. He had two slaves, according to a census from the 1800s in Allegheny County, Maryland.
Another third great-grandfather of the president also owned enslaved people. Thomas Randle owned a child. The unknown male was 14-years-old and was registered in the 1850 census in Baltimore County, Maryland. He was also recorded in the 1860 census.
This may seem like no big deal. But, Biden’s desire to suppress this history means that it is. Against the background of his racial record, both his ancestry and his need to suppress it, make sense.
In 1977 then-Senator Biden said that busing (Black children to white schools) in a conversation about desegregation would cause his children to grow up in a racial jungle. He went on to lead the crusade against busing which included changing the Constitution to accommodate his stance.
In 1987, while campaigning for president in Alabama, he told the crowd, “We (Delawareans) were on the South’s side in the Civil War.” He also proudly spoke about an award segregationist Governor George Wallace bestowed upon him.
In the 1990s, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was the topic of the day, as crime rates in major cities began to skyrocket. Though the bill did reduce crime, the way that it was written had a disproportionately negative impact on Black people because it created new crimes and financially incentivized states to build more prisons. At the time, the current president called it the Biden Crime Bill.
In 2006, Biden made sure to let southerners know that his state of Delaware was a “slave state” to try to gain traction for his own 2008 campaign for president.
Along with nefarious policy stances, the president has a history of racial dog-whistling that most whites, especially on the left, would easily brush off as poorly articulated sentiments.
However, for a lawyer who has five centuries in public service under his belt in which public speaking is par for the course, this arbitrary faux pas happens all too often.
For example, in May 2020, he told radio personality Charlemagne Tha God that Black people who did not vote for him were not Black. Although he tried to clean up the statement later, in August 2020, he said to a group of Black and Latino reporters that the Black community lacked diversity.
“Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” he said.
One of those “notable exceptions” must be his former boss, President Obama, whom Biden described as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.”
The irony in Biden’s constant need to press his Irishness while simultaneously distancing himself from his family’s slave-owning past is not missed.
White people, including Irish-Americans, will commonly broach the myth of Irish slavery in conversations on racism and white supremacy. It is often used as a trump card to excuse themselves from examining the ways the white privilege has benefitted them while oppressing Black people.
Irish-Americans have been branded as the hardworking “Average Joe” figure. In some frameworks, usually white supremacist ones, they too were the once-oppressed, stereotyped, cast-offs who, through dedication and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps managed to assimilate and “make it” in America. Them being white had nothing to do with it.
For a Democratic politician with Biden’s racial record, his need to belabor his Irishness is another variation of “I can’t be racist because….”
Unfortunately for him, the potato famine and suffering temporary hardship at the hands of one’s own people due to a contractual agreement (indentured servitude) was not the same as hundreds of years of chattel slavery and systemic cruelty thereafter, and never will be.
The White House has yet to respond to requests for comment.