Seven prominent Black women activists have made a strong case, and a bit of stir, in a Washington Post op-ed: “’Biden Still Needs Black Women. Here are 3 Things He Needs to Do.’ Tiffany Cross, Lotosha Cross, and Sunny Hostin were among the writers who strongly suggested Biden’s running mate be a Black woman. Their argument is quite clear: Black women are first in the voting booth to elect Democratic presidents, and now first in line risking lives as essential workers. Therefore, we should be rewarded for that. In addition, a Black woman could electrify the base in a way that others may not.
And I agree, the right Black woman would get the Black vote out en masse, a la Obama’s elections of 2008 and 2012.
However, if we break this momentum, we will own it. If we take this tack, the results, good or bad, win or lose, fair or not, will be ours.
The question is this: if we appear to hold Joe Biden hostage with a demand to have a Black woman as vice-president, are we alienating people we need? I’m not just referring to White people. I’m referring to the rainbow that we need to energize, mobilize and organize.
In this country, Black people make up 13% of the population. Latinx make up 10%, Asians and others make up five percent or less. Non-White people make up approximately 27% of the electorate. If every one of the Black people that could vote, voted, our 13% would not get us over the finish line alone.
Yes, it’s important to make demands. God knows we should have done it when we actually had a Black President. Why didn’t we demand in 2008 and 2012 that Obama put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, the exact move Biden is promising now—but did not? We also have to always be strategic. We can’t win alone.
Is the op-ed really about Stacey Abrams? This op-ed came after Benjamin Todd Jealous, the former president/CEO of the NAACP, openly pushed for his longtime friend and fellow civil rights activist. If so, I definitely understand and relate. She should have become governor of Georgia. And she would have become governor if the Voting Rights Act had not been dismantled.
But dismantled it is, and this is yet another obstacle we have in front of us that we did not have when Obama ran in 2008 and 2012. That means that whomever Biden puts in place as his second in command must be strong among all racial demographics because we are going to have to work twice as hard to win.
Biden has promised us our first Black woman Supreme Court Justice. In 50 years of Black activism on the liberal and radical spectrum, this is the first time I can remember a major, electable Democratic presidential candidate actually promising Blacks something specific.
A Supreme Court justice (a lifetime appointment that can change American life drastically) is much more important than the vice-presidency. (Ask our happily married LGBTQ brothers and sisters about that.) Vice President lasts for four to eight years and presides over the Senate but only votes when there is a stalemate. Supreme Court justices make decisions and vote on crucial constitutional issues like voting rights.
The Washington Post op-ed writers correctly explain that the key to securing a seat on the Supreme Court is having control of the U.S. Senate. And that happens by mobilizing the 2020 base. Agreed, but we have to make sure we galvanize the entire base. No one should feel excluded.
When Jesse Jackson was asked what he wanted from the Democrats in 1988, he said he wanted to share. We as African Americans have to be willing to share because we need the whole 27% plus all of the 73% of White people who have sense.
Having said that, I don’t think we should stop making demands. Because though we only make up 13% of the population, we make up almost 40% of the prison population. We make up 26% of unarmed people shot and killed by police and most recently, more than 70% of the people killed with COVID-19. So Black opinion leaders asking for Vice President and Supreme Court Justice is the kind of representation we need to counter the inequalities we have endured forever in this country.
However, once again, we are not alone.
Native Americans and Latinx share the ship of oppression with percentages that match or do not trail far behind Blacks. In terms of racism, Asians have a history in this country that begins with oppression and still continues in various forms. I think it’s important to remind those Washington Post op-ed writers that Biden has made no promises to Native Americans, Asian Americans or Latinx Americans. Yet he (and we!) are asking for their help this November!
We have to continue to press for the kind of demands that unify us as a country and push all of us forward.
And though I do agree that a Black woman would serve us well as vice president, I’m not sure if the public challenge in this instance was the best move strategically. Consider the fact that maybe a Latinx, Native American or an Asian who shares our values might gain the traction we need if we choose to recognize that we need the whole team to win.
(Annette M. Alston is a historian, award-winning journalist and author of Harriet Tubman for Beginners. She is a retired Newark Public Schools teacher and activist. She can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>).