Joe Biden told a group of black mayors in 2019 that an issue in their communities is parents who 'can't read or write themselves'

FILE PHOTO: A supporter for Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden holds a sign as Biden leaves a polling station after a visit, on the day of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Former Vice President Joe Biden told a group of black mayors in Georgia during a 2019 meeting that an issue with education reform in their communities is that "parents can't read or write themselves," The New York Times reported on Thursday.

The story, which detailed Biden's precarious and unsteady positioning among South Carolina's black voters after devastating losses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, said that Biden's literacy comment "shocked and frustrated many in the close-knit group."Advertisement

According to data on adult literacy from the National Center for Education Statistics Biden's remarks aren't factually correct, with black adults less likely than whites and Hispanics to hold lower than average literacy.

The Center said that in 2014, white Americans made up 33% of low-skilled adults, with Hispanic adults accounting for 35% of the group. That year, black Americans made up 23% of low-literacy adults.

In a statement to The Times, Biden's campaign said, "The Vice President regularly talks about how his father's experience has shaped the way he feels about and views the relationship between parents and their children's learning."
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The literacy remark isn't the first time Biden raised eyebrows over the course of his campaign with comments about black families and parents.

At the third Democratic debate in Houston, Texas on September 12, Biden answered a question about how the government should address the history of slavery with a tangent on black parents needing outside intervention to properly raise their children. ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis asked Biden, "As you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?"Advertisement

While Biden began his answer to Davis' question about systemic racism mentioning "institutional segregation" and unequal public school funding, he went on to decry "the problems that come from home" as a source of racial inequality, according to Slate's transcript of his answer.

"Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not day care, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It's not that they don't want to help. They don't know what - they don't know what quite what to do," Biden said.

"Play the radio. Make sure the television - excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone-make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school - er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there," he added.Advertisement

As NPR reported in 2018, Biden's claim that poor kids hear fewer words spoken than kids from wealthy households comes from a 2017 study where researchers placed recording devices in 329 homes and found that by the age of 3, kids from low-income households heard 4 million fewer words than wealthy kids.

While Biden's outdated reference to record players prompted lots of jokes, many commentators raised serious concerns about Biden taking a question about the legacy of slavery, and making it about inadequate parenting by individual families instead of systemic racism.

In an interview with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson, Biden's communications director Kate Bedingfield did not directly address Giridharadas' criticisms about the racial implications of the comments, and said she did not believe that Biden should have answered the question differently. Advertisement

"[Biden] made the same point he makes all the time about the investment in underserved communities and his record of investing in underserved communities ... the point that he was making was an incredibly important one, which is about exposure to language and making sure kids have the resources and opportunities to learn," she said.

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Joe Biden responded to a debate question about slavery and reparations by going off on a tangent about how black parents should raise their kids, and people aren't happy about it Opnion: Drop out, Joe Biden. New Hampshire proves you are done.Advertisement

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