The Transylvania Times -

Reflections On The Biden, Harris Dialogue

The Journey Inward


July 25, 2019

The Biden-Harris dispute in the first Democratic debate is old news by now. Or is it? Didn’t that moment represent something bigger about our country and ourselves?

Surely, that was a stunning moment. Kamala Harris, Senator from California and Democratic candidate for president questioned former Vice President Joe Biden about his past record on African-American affairs, especially his comments about working with segregationists and his views of busing.

When Biden was challenged, I wondered how he would respond. Most of us did, I assume. Some say he didn’t meet the challenge by his tepid response; she was “misrepresenting him.” He stumbled when Harris brought up his record of opposition to mandatory school bussing in the 1970s.

Part of me felt sorry for Biden. Perhaps he is aging and less sure on the debate stage. He is known for gaffes, too. I thought of several ways he could have responded more effectively.

I also saw the strength and passion of Kamala Harris. She was an effective prosecutor in California and allowed that background to emerge. Democrats are hoping for a strong candidate to take on Trump. Her star rose in that regard.

But that moment in the debate brings up an underlying dynamic. As a white person I could feel Biden’s shame over his past record as well as his anger when called into question. Biden represents a part of me and most whites in our culture. We tend to split off sides of ourselves when it comes to race. Harris was touching not just Biden’s but our nascent racism. I am not saying we are racist but isn’t there build-in racial bias.

At the same time, Harris may have prejudice against whites. Living in a culture of injustice and repression, most likely she does. I don’t know her mind or Joe Biden’s, for that matter, and can only assume.

The point is: we are not honest about inherent racism whether that is from the white community or black community. We pretend that we are beyond prejudice. But systemic racism is etched into our cultural landscape.

Pundits talk about the political rankings of Biden and Harris after the debate. Did Biden lose ground? Did Harris gain in the polls. Is Biden out of step? Is Harris an up and coming champion in the party? Will Biden have a good second debate? Can either beat Trump?

At a spiritual and emotional level, however, we had another opportunity to recognize our ourselves when we saw the first Democratic debate, especially the dramatic moment between Harris and Biden.

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can.”

We can’t bring light into darkness if we haven’t shone light in our dark places.

Another African-American, writer James Baldwin, stated, “One can only face in others what one can face in oneself.”

A confession: I am not a racist, but due to my ancestral background there is a hint of racism. I can cover that with clever justifications. It won’t work. I want to feel the freedom that comes with a fearless and searching inventory of my personal history regarding racial bias. If there are ways, I can make amends, all the better.

The televised debates will continue throughout the campaign season. Each time we have an opportunity to meet ourselves (“know thyself”) when we react to exchanges between candidates, including those times when race is front and center.

Jesus stated succinctly that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 RSV). Welcoming those hidden places within allows us to care for our neighbor regardless of skin color.

(Dr. John Campbell is a psychotherapist and ordained clergy living in Brevard.)


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