Like most of the Black women I know, I was prepared to accept any of the choices under consideration. I could point to the strengths of all the talented women on a very deep Democratic bench. From Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.) to Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.) and so many more, all the women had track records of accomplishments as elected leaders, orators and executives. All would have brought strength to the ticket.
But once Biden made his announcement, it all seemed so clear and so right. By the most important metrics, Harris fits the bill perfectly. The senator from California is a great campaigner and will be an asset connecting with voters. She has demonstrated her command of policy issues from foreign affairs to criminal justice reform during her time in state office, in the Senate and on the campaign trail. Without a doubt, Harris is prepared to be president on day one.
But another metric that counts has never been reflected on a major party’s presidential ticket: Black women. It’s about time.
The Democratic Party is a broad and diverse coalition, but Black women represent its most loyal voting bloc. In 2016, we cast 94 percent of our votes for Hillary Clinton, while a majority of White women chose President Trump. We punched above our weight in 2018, turning out above the national average. This year, Biden experienced the power of Black women firsthand. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he owes his come-from-behind primary victory to us; in the pivotal South Carolina primary, Black women accounted for fully a third of the vote, and two-thirds chose Biden.
Black women vote for the futures of our sons and daughters; we vote for our health and the health of our communities. Black women saw in Biden the answer to Trump that the country desperately needs; by choosing Harris as his running mate, Biden has shown he recognizes that we are a critical part of that answer, too.
As Biden’s selection process played out, I had worried that as supporters aligned with one choice or another, it would fracture a party that had only recently healed from the heat of the primary season. Now, it seems clear that Biden would always land right here, with a unifying and clarifying choice.
Harris was the right choice — both for the voices she empowers and for the person she is. She is at ease with herself, she has a story to tell, and she will energize voters. I remember being with Harris at a gathering of Black women at Spelman College — women young and old were captivated by her. I remember the quiet that washed over the chapel, all eyes on her, as she urged women to be fearless in breaking barriers. America is about to discover just how fearless she is.
Biden will need Harris’s skill set both to get to victory and then to govern. As easily as Harris casts her hearty laugh, she offers up a steely eye and tough counterpunch — either on the trail or on the debate stage. I suspect that this was a huge selling point for Biden. To win in November, he needs to keep Trump on his heels. And, unlike Vice President Pence, Harris will not be a yes woman. She will be someone Biden can trust to tell him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.
This choice is not without its downsides, of course. Harris will be a target for Trump’s name-calling. She is from California, which is not a battleground and is often a subject of right-wing derision. And despite her campaign in the presidential primary, Harris is not as well-known as one might think; three months is a short time to introduce yourself. She will also have to deal with racist and sexist attacks as a Black woman who could one day be president. And given Biden’s age, she will be under extra pressure to show that she is immediately ready to serve should the need arise.
There will be time for all that. But, for now, I want to soak it in. When Shirley Chisholm ran for president nearly 50 years ago, she told us that if we didn’t have a seat at the table, we should “bring a folding chair.” Kamala Harris — a Black woman, a woman of color, a daughter of immigrants — will have a seat at the table.
May it be for once and for all.
I thought it didn’t matter — until it did.
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