The Democratic primary has been a dispiriting experience for black Americans. The party spent months boasting about its multicultural representation, only to have all that diversity wiped out of the field of candidates before a single primary vote was cast. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) didn’t make it to 2020. Julián Castro and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) bowed out before the Iowa debates, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang ended his bid right after New Hampshire. Suddenly, the most diverse presidential campaign ever is turning into a race to the finish that could end with nothing but white men. The reason has less to do with any candidates’ actual qualifications and more to do with the arc of American history and the way it bends toward white men. The candidates who dropped out and the order in which they gave up their campaigns reflect the exact hierarchy of oppression this country has executed since before it was founded.

The first viable candidate to leave the race was Harris, a black woman. The senator from California was strong in every debate, appearing presidential while squaring up against front-runners such as Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She did have a major hurdle to overcome, especially with black voters, in her history as a prosecutor and the narrative (and memes) indicating that she was a “cop.” I never really expected a black candidate who couldn’t get support from black voters to win the primary. But Harris has been elected statewide in California three times. She was much too qualified for a December exit — especially when compared with another former prosecutor with an equally problematic record, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), whom pundits are suddenly putting in the top tier after her third-place finish in New Hampshire. Klobuchar also gets only about 4 percent of the black vote — which, if she can’t improve, means her campaign is doomed, too.

The next to fall were men of color — Booker and Castro. While former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg was becoming a darling for centrist white voters, Booker and Castro were screaming into a void about their legacies as mayors of cities vastly larger. (South Bend has 102,000 residents; Newark, which elected Booker, is nearly three times as big, and Castro’s hometown of San Antonio, with nearly 1.5 million people, is the seventh-largest city in the country.) Buttigieg’s past as a Rhodes scholar drew praise, while hardly anyone talked about how Booker won the same scholarship. Buttigieg, who’s supported by about 2 percent of black voters, skated past serious questions about his treatment of the black community in South Bend. While Booker and Castro couldn’t even qualify for the December debate, white candidates such as Buttigieg and Klobuchar — and their billionaire counterparts, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — managed to stick around.

On Tuesday night, after New Hampshire voted, Twitter was ablaze with concern and outrage that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) was being treated unfairly in comparison with her male counterparts. MSNBC was widely criticized for airing Biden’s South Carolina speech live instead of Warren’s speech in New Hampshire, where the actual Tuesday caucusing was taking place — especially when Warren beat Biden in the state. President Trump piled on, mocking Warren for not getting a single delegate, and she was widely being counted out. The coverage did a disservice to Warren, whose campaign isn’t over yet. And it was also a disservice to the black voters who are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white; black voices have barely been heard. Calling anyone a favorite or a loser this early diminishes the urgency of nominating a candidate who can connect with those essential voters.

But here’s the thing about oppression and white privilege: It eventually catches up to all of us. As inequality creeps along, it swallows up each level of marginalized people on its way. Black women and men of color may get gobbled up first, but that oppressive beast will eventually find its way to white women, too. Which is what we have seen this week. The disregard and erasure of Warren’s campaign is unfair just as the disregard and erasure of Booker, Harris and Castro was. But if intersectionality has taught us anything, it’s that white supremacy has to be quelled when it hits the most vulnerable among us. We should have all made more of a fuss about the way Harris was treated and the inherent misogynoir that colored her departure. Now that sexism is threatening to push Warren out of the race, it’s almost too late to stop it.

Warren and her campaign, to their credit, have openly embraced the idea of Harris as a running mate, while also absorbing Castro as a surrogate. Black women, especially, have been sounding the alarm of unfairness as marginalized contenders fall by the wayside. This isn’t surprising — Warren has been careful to amplify intersectionality and silenced black voices throughout her campaign. Everyone else just failed to catch on.

If Warren drops out of the race anytime soon, sexism will deserve a lot of the blame. Klobuchar might not be too far behind, based on recent polls. And before too long, there will be nothing left but white male candidates for a party that all but promised this wouldn’t be the case. It’s a reminder that no matter what an American institution promises, it’s still an American institution. And the only way to succeed is to be absolutely perfect or be absolutely a white man. Everyone else is on their own.