Editorial: Black women got Biden elected. Of course they did
In his acceptance speech as president-elect, Joe Biden thanked Black Americans for standing up for him again and again, especially when his campaign was at its lowest ebb. “You’ve always had my back,” he said.
And as we approach Thanksgiving at the end of a bleak year beset by virus, violence and fractious politics, one of the few things we can give thanks for are the legions of Black voters who helped Biden win — and the Black women, in particular, who spearheaded registration drives and exhorted their communities to find their power in voting.
Black people always have someone’s back. Whether it’s a politician they want to trust or just some folks who need help, Black people, historically, welcome those who’ve been cast aside.
When a Black dancer in the late 1920s in Chicago was impregnated by a white theater owner and gave the baby up for adoption, it was a couple in the Black community who took in that baby. That child would grow up to be my mother. As a kid, I saw that my parents’ friends included an interracial married couple when that was rare. My parents told me that couples like them were rarely accepted by the white community. Instead, they found a home and friendship in the Black community.
Victoria Moran, a 50-year-old Black psychotherapist in Los Angeles who has a white husband and a 12-year-old daughter, told me that hope had been passed down from generation to generation in her family. Her great-great-great grandmother was born on a plantation in South Carolina. She married a slave, had children, and never knew a free day in her life. Her daughter was born enslaved but died free. That woman’s daughter worked her whole life as a domestic. But her daughter would become a licensed practical nurse. And the nurse’s daughter — Moran’s mother — would go to Juilliard and be the first woman in the family to go to college.
“I would be turning my back on my entire lineage to not be hopeful,” Moran said.
The numbers indicate she is not alone. In a poll of likely Black women voters in October commissioned by Higher Heights for America, a political action committee dedicated to electing progressive Black women, 75% of the Black women polled said they were highly motivated to vote. The other 25% said they would vote even as they grew hopeless that voting wouldn’t bring the change they wanted to see.
Nobody has invested in the long view like Black women have, politically. The Higher Heights for America poll also asked Black women voters to choose from a list of demographic groups the one they thought could make the biggest difference to the outcome of the presidential election. Almost two-thirds chose themselves.
“When you know that your power changes things,” says Glynda Carr, the chief executive of Higher Heights for America, “you lean harder into that power.”
Black women not only turned out in huge numbers in the states and cities that were crucial to Biden’s win, but they also organized and delivered the turnout without which Biden and Harris would have lost.
In the battleground state of Michigan, Biden won Wayne County — which includes Detroit and a large Black population — with 597,170 votes. That’s 77,726 more votes than Clinton won there in 2016. In Wisconsin, Biden won Milwaukee County — which also has a large Black population — with 317,270 votes. That’s 28,448 more than Clinton’s 288,822 votes in 2016, and it more than covers the 20,000-some votes by which he carried the state.
In Pennsylvania in 2020, according to CNN, Biden won by 81,000 votes. Overall, there was a roughly 23% increase in Black voters in that state’s election, based on the state vote totals and exit polls. The numbers of Black votes went from about 561,000 for Clinton in 2016 to at least 692,000 for Biden in 2020 — a difference that far surpasses his margin of victory in the state.
And although a lot of what galvanized this effort was the opportunity to get a Black woman elected vice president, Black women organized around issues. Here’s a good example — the first Black female Los Angeles district attorney, Jackie Lacey, was defeated in part by the efforts of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, which is largely led by Black women. They favored George Gascón (a Cuban-born immigrant), who is considered more progressive on criminal justice reform. So did this editorial board.
But I voted for Lacey. Like her critics, I believe she should have prosecuted at least some of the police officers who have killed unarmed Black men — and unarmed homeless men. But I also understand her stance that she won’t prosecute cases against cops that her office can’t win. Bottom line: I did not want to banish from office a smart Black woman.
There are still too few of them in seats of power. Kamala Harris is only the second Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. After Harris is sworn in as vice president, there will be no Black women in the Senate unless California Gov. Gavin Newsom appoints one to fill Harris’ seat. Black women activists in California and across the country are using some of the clout they have rightly earned this election year to press Newsom to do that. I agree with them.
In his acceptance speech, Biden told Black voters that he would repay their loyalty by having their backs. How will he acknowledge the Black women who helped hand him the presidency? Biden can make sure his COVID relief plans address the economic struggles of lower-paid workers — caregivers, restaurant workers, aides in schools — many of whom are Black and female. A Biden administration could invest more money in breast cancer research — which Black women are more likely to die of than are white women.
He could also appoint Black women to his Cabinet and to high-ranking staff positions. (This week Biden picked one — career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield — to be ambassador to the United Nations.) “We are there, and we are qualified,” says California state Sen. Holly Mitchell, who was just elected to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. “Just don’t overlook us.”
He can start there.
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