You Decide: Did Biden Use a Racial Slur by Saying “Roaches”?

A resurfaced video of former Vice President Joe Biden at an event in 2017 is raising many questions about Biden and his fitness for office.

The 2017 video was taken shortly after Biden and former President Barack Obama left office where he was giving a speech in Wilmington, Delaware as they were honoring him by changing the name of the local pool.

Biden began by talking about his time as a lifeguard at the pool but things took an awkward turn when he started discussing how he would let little kids play with his wet leg hair.

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“By the way, you know, I sit on the stand, and it get[s] hot,” Biden said, flanked by children from the local community. “I got a lot, I got hairy legs that turn blonde in the sun, and the kids used to come up and reach in the pool and rub my leg down so it was straight and then watch the hair come back up again. They’d look at it.”

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Things got even more controversial when Biden said “roaches.” It is unclear what he meant by this.

“So I learned about roaches, I learned about kids jumping on my lap,” the former vice president said. “And I loved kids jumping on my lap.”

There is almost no context to this statement and the Biden campaign is no help considering they are refusing to answer questions on this topic.

There is no direct link that Biden was referring to black people as “roaches,” however he did discuss the black community during the same speech.

“I was a kid from suburbia,” Biden said while discussing his motivation to work at the pool. “I wanted to get more involved. I realized, I lived in a neighborhood where I’d turn on the television, and I’d see and listen to Dr. [Martin Luther] King and others, but I didn’t know any black people, no I really didn’t. … So, I wanted to work here.”

Breitbart does their best to dissect the situation. Check out what they had to say:

The pool today, much like in Biden’s youth, is located in a historically black neighborhood on Wilmington’s east side. In 2010, the two census tracts surrounding the pool had a population that was 87.3 percent black. More than 75 percent of the families who reported having children under the age of 18 were living below the poverty level. Likewise, more than 61 percent of individuals over the age of 18 in the area were living below the poverty threshold.

Complicating the picture is the fact that poverty is often associated with pest infestation, with the poor, themselves, at times being labeled parasites that feed off the public dole. Given the makeup of the community in which the pool is located, it is easy to understand why Biden’s comments could be interpreted negatively.

The Racial Slur Database, an online website working to combat racism by educating on the etymology of denigrating language, characterizes “roach” as an offensive term used against African Americans. A 2017 paper published by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, denotes the term derives from the tragic history of slavery. European ships carrying enslaved Africans were the first to bring cockroaches to North America—a result of the often cramped, filthy, and inhumane conditions blacks were subject to below deck. The introduction of an invasive species, like the cockroach, alongside slavery in North America gave rise to unfair racial connections.

“The horrifying conditions of the ocean crossing and the formidable economic conditions experienced by African Americans following emancipation gave fuel to a fallacious association between blackness, poverty, and filth that pervades the American cultural imaginary,” Lindsey Garcia wrote for the Carson Center.

One only has to look at the recent public controversy surrounding the rap star Cardi B to understand the negative and racist overtones associated with the term. In 2017, the rapper drew condemnation from the black community for calling dark-skinned African American women “roaches” in old social media posts. Cardi B eventually clarified she was using the term in reference to someone who was “disrespectful,” like many do in her native New York City borough of the Bronx. Even before the explanation was offered, a number of prominent black public figures denounced the artist’s use of the word as racist. Many, cited the term’s longstanding racial significance as an impetus to speak out.

Although it is unclear if Biden knew the offensive history behind the term “roach” when using it in 2017, the former vice president’s record in public office does not bode well for his defense. Biden’s history of racially insensitive remarks spans from his early days in the U.S. Senate, when he warned busing would lead to a “racial jungle,” to his 1988 presidential run, in which he downplayed his support for civil rights to court Southern voters.

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