Bankole: Joe Biden's VP pick Kamala Harris shows power of Black demands
“This should not surprise. No segment of the national electorate has given more but demanded and received less from the Democratic Party nationally than African Americans. We don’t take ourselves seriously, therefore no one else does. Our support can be won with gestures,” Randall Robinson, the legendary African American scholar and activist wrote in his book, “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.”
His postulation succinctly captures the importance of the announcement of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the first Black vice presidential nominee for a major party ticket in history. It revealed the difficult process Black people had to go through in prevailing on Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, to select a female running mate from the party’s most loyal base or risk losing the November election.
The message was clear: How can Black women be good enough to build up the party from the bottom, including serving as the brain trust and devising strategies on how to win crucial elections, but not good enough to become the next vice president of the United States?
The fact that it took this much public pressure to force Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate exposes the ongoing, glaring contradictions and hypocrisy of the white liberal establishment’s relationship with Black people.
But most importantly, the selection of Harris shows that when Black people unite around a common agenda and courageously demand equity from Democrats, their demands will be met. Black people are not without options in the pool of partisan politics, and we should not support any candidate based on party labels. Every candidate, regardless of party, must earn Black support.
Think about how we got to Harris. It was an agonizing journey, because Black people had to beg Biden to not go with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or any other white female liberal politician. Blacks had to push hard against what seemed like a caste system inside the party that appears to limit how high Black women can rise.
And when it became clear that Whitmer, who has broken key campaign promises to Blacks, was in serious contention for the VP slot, Black people gave Biden an ultimatum. He had to choose a Black woman or be ready to concede the November election to President Donald Trump. In that push, there were hardly any prominent white liberal politicians who joined the public demand for a Black VP.
Whitmer, who gave us the impression she was more focused on being governor, could have publicly pulled her name out of the list of top contenders and joined the historic quest for a Black woman VP. She could have led the charge out of respect and deference for the Black support she received during her 2018 gubernatorial race, and also because of the climate of the Black Lives Matter movement.
If Whitmer reportedly informed Biden’s team at some point that she didn’t want to be considered for the job, and had recommended a Black woman, why didn’t she say so publicly like her fellow white liberal politician, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, did?
But apparently, it wasn’t just the qualified and highly accomplished Black women under consideration by Biden who were ambitious. Whitmer too was ambitious, and because of white privilege her ambition didn’t receive intrusive and overtly criticalmedia reviews like the other Black women VP candidates.
Still, the long walk to political equity for Black women, culminating in Harris’ ascendancy, was established by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer when she defied an all-white delegation from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic convention. It was exemplified in 1968 by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and who sowed the first seed for Black women seeking the highest office in the nation with her own presidential run in 1972.
“We are a people in a quandry about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America,” the firebrand Barbara Jordan, the first Black congresswoman from the Deep South, said in her keynote at the 1976 Democratic Convention.
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