The country faced the unthinkable: four more long and stressful years of President Trump’s cruel, chaotic, calamitous leadership. According to exit polls, a sizable majority of White voters stuck with Trump. It was citizens of color who saved the day — and no demographic group more so than African Americans.
Given Harris’s status as the first woman of color elected vice president, and given the pivotal role that activist Stacey Abrams played in apparently flipping the state of Georgia from red to blue, much will rightfully be made of the starring role that Black women played in this election. And individual voters mattered as much as the big names: Early exit polls estimate that 91 percent of African American women voted for Biden and Harris.
Black men came in a close second, giving 80 percent of their votes to the Democratic ticket. Collectively, just 12 percent of Black voters backed Trump. And African Americans appear to have turned out in large numbers in the urban centers where Democrats needed to win big in order to rebuild the electoral “blue wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Their efforts are even more impressive given the hurdles Black voters faced: the covid-19 pandemic, which has had a deadly and disproportionate impact on African American communities; and a long-running, nationwide Republican voter-suppression crusade, including purges of voter rolls in key states such as Georgia and Wisconsin. Overcoming obstacles, however, is what we have been doing since our first enslaved ancestors were brought here four centuries ago.
And Black voters didn’t just save Biden in November. If not for Black voters, Biden never would have had the chance to face off against Trump. After his disappointing finishes in the first primaries and caucuses, the political cognoscenti began to write Biden off. I remember seeing him in Manchester, N.H., on the morning of the New Hampshire primary, where it was clear he would do poorly. He was still flashing that hundred-watt smile, but it was hard to see the fire of belief in his eyes. He flew out of the state before the polls even closed, knowing he would not be delivering a victory speech. He finished fifth.
But his destination was South Carolina, where African Americans would get their first chance to weigh in on the Democratic nominee. On Feb. 26, as I was driving from the airport in Charleston to my hotel, I listened on the radio as House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, the most powerful and influential Black politician in the state, gave Biden his passionate and unqualified endorsement. In response, Black South Carolinians gave Biden a massive landslide victory that propelled him through the next primaries — and soon made him the consensus nominee.
Clyburn’s advice didn’t end there. Clyburn told CNN on Saturday that he had privately urged Biden to pick not just a woman, but a Black woman, as his running mate, explaining that Biden’s choice of Harris “cemented his relationship to the Black community.”
Once again, Black voters proved themselves to be both coldly pragmatic and politically savvy. The urgent task was to prevent the reelection of a president who ignored science and encouraged racial animus, who responded to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks by refusing to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism and instead demanded a vision of “law and order” that gave Black communities neither.
This election was an emergency. In search of the strongest candidates, African Americans looked past contenders who were younger and more polished and chose Biden. He was a known quantity, after half a century of public life; he was an ally, having served for eight years as loyal deputy to the first Black president, Barack Obama; and he would have relatively wide appeal to White voters as well as Black ones. To seal the deal, Biden was obviously the Democrat whom Trump least wanted to run against.
Trump stubbornly refused to utter the words “Black lives matter.” Perhaps now he understands — and so does the rest of the country — how much Black votes do.
After the American Revolution, Black sweat and toil provided the economic foundation for the new republic. The Civil War and the civil rights movement gave substance to our founding ideals. Heroes like the late John Lewis served as the nation’s moral conscience; I wish he were here today to join the celebrations.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” basketball coach Doc Rivers said earlier this year. Show some love, America. Your Black compatriots more than deserve it.