Black Women Are Squarely Behind The Biden-Harris Ticket

Errin Haines
Originally published by The 19th

For Black women, there is perhaps no happier place on Earth than the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans. The annual gathering, now in its 30th year, is one of the largest of Black women in the country — which makes it among the largest gatherings of a loyal and consistent political voting bloc.

The Black women I talked to last weekend at Essence were not happy with talk of Democrats abandoning President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris, who came to the festival on Saturday and laid out the stakes of the 2024 election to a packed room of cheering attendees. They told me they support the Biden-Harris ticket, chafed at any mention of getting rid of Harris in any capacity, and remained squarely focused on former President Donald Trump as a threat to democracy.

And yet, in the days since Biden’s disastrous debate performance sparked waves of speculation about what was next for his political career, Black women — including Harris — were initially marginalized from the national conversation about if and how Democrats win in November. On the ground, Black women spoke with clarity and pragmatism about what they will do at the ballot box, even as they voiced concern about the uncertainty they see around them.

“Black women are not in a position, nor are we willing, to allow the unthinkable to happen,” said Jotaka Eaddy, founder of #WinWithBlackWomen, a collective started during the 2020 election in part to publicly counter racist and sexist attacks against Black women in politics.

“In these hypothetical conversations, we are not ever going to sit by and watch a scenario in which the person the president has chosen as his governing partner is left out of the conversation. That’s a non-negotiable for Black women.”

Harris’ stop at Essence was part of a month-long focus on Black women voters that included a keynote address to the national convening of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, in Dallas on Wednesday, and Black sorority Zeta Phi Beta’s national convening in Indianapolis on July 24. As she took the stage in New Orleans on Saturday, Essence CEO Caroline Wanga opened their interview by asking her: “Who is Kamala Harris?”

“The vice president of the United States,” Harris confidently responded as the crowd roared.

It’s an answer that seemed to bear repeating. Harris was among Biden’s staunchest and swiftest defenders after a poor performance at the first presidential debate of the 2024 cycle on June 27. Nervous — mostly White — Democrats began raising questions about Biden’s age and capacity to continue as the party’s nominee, and some called for him to step aside. But some of the early talk of a potential successor routinely skipped over the sitting vice president.

In the last few days, as Harris has entered the conversation, familiar criticisms of her leadership, readiness and ability to effectively message to and connect with voters have resurfaced. She is frequently referred to simply as “Kamala” by the press and was called “the first DEI president” in a recent New York Post editorial and by a GOP congressman.

The narrative that has swirled around the vice president resonates with Black women, said Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America PAC, an organization focused on supporting Black women as voters, candidates and elected officials.

“If the president and vice president were two White males, there wouldn’t be this strong discussion about who could or should be selected in the political process if the president has decided not to move forward,” Carr said.

Harris “has run, won and governed at every level, including sitting steps away from the Oval Office,” she continued. “She continues to show up every day, doing the job of the vice president. She has checked all those boxes. We’re going to be very aware of how people continue to talk about her in this moment, about her readiness to lead, her qualifications, her experience.”

On stage at Essence, there was no mention of the debate debacle. Instead, Harris pointed to Trump’s recent criminal conviction and the Supreme Court ruling that declared former presidents have immunity for “official acts” as proof he should not be elected to a second term in the White House. She also focused on highlighting the administration’s record on student loan debt forgiveness, work to remove medical debt from credit reports, and efforts to address the maternal mortality health crisis — all issues disproportionately impacting Black women.

And as she asked for their votes in November, Harris also spoke directly to the audience about the power of Black women to make change.

“Ambition is a good thing,” Harris told the crowd. “It is good to know one’s power and then go for what you want, knowing you can achieve it. We do not need to step quietly.”

Black women have gotten louder and become a larger part of the 2024 conversation in recent days. At Essence, two Black women who are among the highest-profile members of the Congressional Black Caucus publicly affirmed their support for the Biden-Harris ticket.

“People are talking about, ‘Biden is too old.’ Hell, I’m older than Biden!”

85-year-old Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California told the cheering crowd Saturday ahead of Harris’ remarks. “I get up every morning. And I exercise. And I work late hours. … I want to tell you, no matter what anybody says: It ain’t gonna be no other Democratic candidate. It’s going to be Biden and we better know it.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, enthusiastically praised Harris in her support for the ticket.

“We got a Black vice president of the United States of America,” Beatty said. “I know who I am supporting. I know who I am voting for. I’m going to continue with the Biden-Harris team because we’re going to have a sister to still be in the White House, fighting for us and making a difference.”

Black women are pragmatic, but they also aren’t blind. When I asked them about the debate, they acknowledged that Biden didn’t perform well — but were also alarmed by Trump’s stream of lies. Many Black Americans, including women, see the stakes of the election as existential and believe that Biden and Harris have fought and will fight for them in the White House as they watch Republicans attempt to undermine Black women’s leadership and efforts to expand diversity, equity and inclusion.

Black women know Biden is old. But, they say, he was old four years ago when they voted for him — and they feel comfortable voting for him again because they believe he has a capable vice president who is ready to lead if he cannot continue.

Over three days in New Orleans, I met dozens of Black women with a sense of urgency about the election, for themselves, their families and their communities, around the issues they care about: reproductive rights, democracy, the economy, education, climate change and more. They plan to vote, and to make the case to the Black men or young voters in their lives who may be skeptical about participating in the election for why they should vote, too.

Their votes in November will not only be about Biden’s or Harris’ power, but about their own.

About J. Williams

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