Black women know how to survive.
Such endurance is what often drives our political choices. Often, Black women throw their political weight behind candidates who they believe is most likely to reduce the harm facing their communities. Errin Haines, editor-at-large for The 19th, is an expert in breaking down why Black women voters behave this way at the polls. Her work investigates issues that matter to Black women and why those concerns inform how we alter the political landscape.
But these transformations aren’t limited to policy or talking points. This election cycle hosted one of the most diverse candidate fields since Reconstruction and now the presumptive Democratic nominee is courting Black women candidates for vice president. He’s also pledged to nominate the first Black woman onto the Supreme Court should he be elected. Beyond Washington, Black activism as it has manifested in this decade—including pushes to defund and abolish the police—would be nonexistent without Black women.
“Since 2016, I have been kind of hammering the theme that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party,” said Haines. “And that they are the caretakers of our democracy.”
When I think back on our chat, this is what resonates the most with me. Above you can watch our chat—produced by Britt Pullie and Faith Smith—and below is a transcript of the discussion.
Hey, y’all. I’m Julia Craven, and today I’m chatting with Errin Haines, editor-at-large for The 19th, a new nonprofit newsroom that is focused on women and politics. And I’m so happy that you could join us for this installment of “Conversations with Julia Craven” for a discussion on Black women and the 2020 election. Next week, I’ll be back to talk to somebody else who is also making strides in their respective fields. But today, me and Errin are going to dig into the most influential voting block in the country. So, how are you doing today?
Julia, I’m great. How are you? Happy Monday.
Ooh, are Monday’s happy?
They are when we’re talking about Black women and their role in the American electorate.
Well, and that’s that on that. So, let’s get started. Let’s just give people a rundown. People who may not be familiar with Black women as a voting bloc. How influential is this demographic when we’re talking about elections?
Yeah, I mean, so Black women are really, and I think, you know, I have reported this many times—my dog is going to join this chat, apparently—Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, right? I mean, they’re not just voters. And when they go to the polls they don’t just go for themselves. They go for their family. They go for their community. They go for the race. They go for the country, right? And they don’t just take themselves to the polls. They take their sorority. They take their church members. They take their community. They take their family, loved ones, friends. It’s not just something that they do for themselves. And so that really is the difference between the Black woman voter and the rest of the American electorate. That they really do vote with everyone in mind.
And so, we know that at least for the past several cycles, that Black women have turned out in excess of 60 percent at every election, outpacing their percentage of the population. Black women are only about 7 percent of the U.S. population. And you know, in 2016, Black women voted for Hillary Clinton more than any other group, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton.
Black women, when they show up at the polls, they don’t just show up, they show out. This is the reason that they are such a valuable part of our politics.
What issues would you say that Black women voters care about the most? Because you’ve been covering race and ethnicity for quite some time, and your work has always centered on us, and how we feel about politics, what we care about, what is most pressing to us. So what would you say, in this election, is most important to Black women voters?
You know, I think the priority for Black women this year is what it is most years, which is that racism is on the ballot. Addressing systemic racism, as it affects not only them, but their families and the Black community, is a priority for Black women, right? Obviously we’re in a … moment of reckoning around race, where a lot of the rest of the country is waking up to what Black women have long known and fought to tell the rest of the country about.
And that’s in every aspect of our society. Black women, like a lot of Americans, prioritize things like health care or the economy or education. But have a very specific lens in terms of the intersection of race and gender that puts them at the bottom of the totem pole in so many of those areas. So, when you fix these things for Black women you really fix them for the entire American society. Which is why they push so hard for these things. Not just for themselves, but because they know that it will improve the country and our democracy in general.
All right, that reminds me: I’ve interviewed several politicians where when I asked them about their platforms and how they read to me as very race-centric, they always say that well, when you start uplifting Black people you’re going to bring everybody else with you, because you’re targeting the folks who are being the most disenfranchised in this country.
Right. Yeah, no, I mean policies that exclude Black people, and particularly Black women, do not tend to be helpful for everyone. But, when you govern with Black people and Black women in mind the residual effect of that … That is the rising tide that lifts all boats, in many places. You have Black women thinking about how to govern, how to shape, how our society will function for whom, right?
I think that that is how you get to addressing a lot of the institutional and systemic problems that exist in this country and that people are taking to the streets for right now.
Right. So, let’s get into that, because there’s a lot going on right now.
Yeah. A whole lot.
There is so much going on. So, we have the protests against racism. And I call them protests against systemic racism because even though the impetus was George Floyd’s death, I mean these … They’ve just become so much bigger than this one issue. They’ve always been bigger than one issue. So, there’s that. And then there’s also the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. So, I want to hop into the pandemic piece of this first. How has coronavirus affected voting?
Yeah. You’re absolutely right. This moment is about the intersection of everything. And I think what the pandemic did was that it exposed inequality in every aspect of our society. Policing was just the latest iteration of that, and kind of the straw for a lot of people that forced them into the streets.
But, the pandemic is political for people. It absolutely is. And it’s occurring in the midst of our primary elections. And you saw people, literally, willing to risk their public health for the health of our democracy. Standing in hours-long lines, trying to social distance as best they could at precincts. But the pandemic meant that most of the older poll workers, who would typically be manning those precincts, were not able to do that because of safety concerns around coronavirus. So you had fewer precincts, which meant people standing in line for longer and really just wondering if and how they could cast a ballot safely in this democracy.
And that really applied to African American voters in particular. Because what we know is that Black and brown voters, Black and brown people in this country, are being disproportionately impacted by this virus. They’re contracting it and being killed by it more than white Americans. So, I think, in so many ways, the dual pandemics have really laid bare who and where we are as a country, and that there has to be a new normal. Not just around coronavirus for a lot of people, but also around the way that race is lived in America.
Right. I remember early on in the pandemic when, I believe it was Wisconsin, was voting. They weren’t the only state that had a primary, but I remember particularly there was some pushback there about closing the polls or postponing these elections until it was safer, until we had a better idea of how people could safely cast ballots. So, how has that affected Black voters in particular? Because when I think about Wisconsin immediately I’m thinking about Milwaukee.
Yeah, absolutely. Milwaukee, which is the Blackest part of Wisconsin, right? But you know, you also saw similar concerns in Georgia. Right? Where mail-in balloting was way up this year, particularly because Black folks were concerned about the thought of standing in line. But, you saw Black and really, white folks for the first time, frankly, understanding what voter disenfranchisement might look like. Right? Having to stand in line for three or four hours. That was a new experience for them.
Black folks showing up with snacks, folding chairs, cell phone chargers, you name it. Right? ‘Cause they knew that they were going to be in line for a long time. They have a survival kit when they hit the polls. Kentucky, same situation. You had Louisville, right? Tons of Black people trying to safely cast their ballot. And going to the polls with Breonna Taylor in mind when they went to vote.
You know, we’re more than 100 days out and her killers have not been charged or arrested. That is a thing that is motivating them. Despite the fact that coronavirus is in full force in this country, and it is in fact making a comeback this summer.
So, yeah. I think for Black voters who see racism as a public health issue, right? Like it is absolutely on par for many of us with coronavirus. And that is why I think you see a lot of people taking to the streets. And that is why you see a lot of people, frankly, willing to risk standing in a polling place, to make their voice heard this cycle.
Right. Absolutely. So, I believe my parents, they live in Georgia. I think they did mail-in ballots. But, I don’t know what Nana did.
My mom voted mail-in, and my mom is a super voter. Okay, my mom votes in every election…. She votes every single time. And I was terrified at the thought of [my mom], you know, trying to cast a ballot. Even with a mask on, even with gloves, even with sanitizer. Like all of those things, the precautions that I know she was taking in other aspects of her daily life. I didn’t want her at a precinct.
But, much to my relief, she told me that she had gotten her mail-in ballot. She had voted by mail. But, really, I mean that’s the first time that my mom has done that. My mom usually …
Could you repeat what you said? The sirens that just blew past my house drowned you out. So I’m so sorry.
For real, that’s totally fine. There’s a lot going on. No, what I was saying was my super voter mother voted by mail for the first time. And she is somebody who usually is that person who wants to see her ballot be cast in person. She usually early votes, because obviously, you know, that’s a thing in Georgia. You have weeks of early voting that you can do.
But she wanted no parts of a precinct, much to my relief. Because she is somebody who’s taking precautions. And I would hate for her to contract coronavirus trying to participate safely in this democracy.
So, you know, I think a lot of Black folks are open, maybe even for the first time, in areas of the country that have had historic disenfranchisement, are open to the idea of mail-in balloting for the first time. Even as the president is raising the specter of voter fraud and rigged elections through a mail-in balloting process.
Right. And how dangerous is that? I mean, a lot of things that the president says are very, very dangerous. But, when we are talking about mail-in ballots, especially right now, how dangerous is this narrative that he’s pushing?
Well, I mean, it’s a form of voter suppression. You know? Like, we know that he’s not somebody who has shown a particular concern for voter integrity or voter access. But he has talked about voter fraud, particularly in cities and urban areas, right? 2016 he was raising the specter of possibly rigged elections in cities like Philadelphia, where I live. Where there are a lot of Black folks that cast ballots. So, that is … I don’t know if it’s still a dog whistle really, it might just be a people whistle at this point.
It’s a bullhorn.
When you say things like, you know, “Well, oh, I suspect voter fraud might be afoot.” There’s no proof that there’s widespread voter fraud with absentee or mail-in ballot in America. So, part of creating that, that’s myth-making. It’s not real, and people … What you would want to hear from a President is what his plan is for how as many Americans as possible are going to be able to vote safely, and participate wholly in our democracy.
[Dog barks in background]
Okay, Ginger. So, Ginger is also not down with voter suppression. Just so y’all know.
I see. She’s very passionate. She has a lot of feelings. So, now let’s get into the protests. So, one thing that you said a little bit earlier was you mentioned that the officers who killed Breonna Taylor have not been arrested, or charged, or disciplined outside of losing their jobs at this point. So, I wanted to link back to that, and ask you to explain the understanding that Black folks have of how local elections, state elections, these smaller scale elections, that don’t get as much media attention, can have the most change within a community. Because, for example, when we’re talking about arresting cops, we’re talking about who your district attorney is. We’re talking about who your state’s attorney is. We’re talking about who your attorney general is.
Yeah, I mean, look. I think that Black people have increasingly been making that connection since 2014 ever since the Black Lives Matter era was kind of born. A lot more attention on district attorneys since then. You’ve got Ken Fox in Chicago who was swept in on a reform message. You’ve got Larry Krasner here in Philadelphia …
Also saying that he was running, he was a former defense attorney who ran for DA in Philadelphia. Because he was running on a Black Lives Matter message.
You also have, I mean just in the midst of this pandemic, you had the first Black woman mayor of Ferguson ever elected. You know, Ferguson, the birth place of the modern Black Lives Matter era movement. And they’re just now, six years later, getting a Black woman in charge of running that city.
So, you know, I think that people are beginning to make those connections and paying a lot more attention to the offices that will have an impact on their everyday lives, a lot more. So, I think that you’re going to see people paying attention not just to, I think, what is the most consequential presidential election that we have seen in our lifetimes. But, I think also a lot of those down-ticket races to see who is running in their communities, and how those people will also govern with their health and safety in mind.
In your reporting have you come across people who intend to cast ballots, or maybe who don’t intend to cast ballots, but either way, have you come across people where their decision on what they’re going to do in November is attached to our current … Well, it’s not a new narrative, but it has entered the mainstream about police abolition and just uprooting the system entirely. Because, to date, the reforms instituted haven’t worked as well as people thought they would.
What I would say is that what I hear from a lot of the Black voters that I have been talking to throughout the primary heading into November is that what they are doing in November is that they are casting a survival vote. And that was true even before the pandemic. And it’s even more true now, right? Like this is, for them, not even about a particular candidate. This is about … Except for Donald Trump, who they are singularly focused on getting rid of in November. Like that is what a lot of Democrats, especially Black voters have told me is their number one priority. It’s why they were able to say, “Look, maybe Joe Biden wasn’t my candidate. There were 20-something people running in the Democratic primary, maybe I wanted somebody else. But, if it’s Joe Biden against Donald Trump, then okay. That’s what we’re doing.”
And they say that that is about their survival. Because they worry about their health and safety under a second term of President Donald Trump.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I definitely think that Black voters, just in general, vote out of a place of harm reduction, which candidate is going to cause the least harm to me and my people.
We talk about enthusiasm. I think enthusiasm matters for sure, because that is what it’s going to take to beat an incumbent, period. But this president in particular. If that’s what Democrats plan to do they’re going to have to have enthusiasm. They’re going to have to galvanize people. But, I think that Black folks have not … It is a privilege to be able to cast a ballot for many Black people, for somebody that they are excited about. Right?
The reason for record turnout in 2008 and 2012 is because Black people were excited about Barack Obama, like very excited. Obviously, the historic nature of his campaign in 2008, but also wanting to see him reelected in 2012 was something that was exciting for Black people. Black people don’t have that experience in most presidential cycles, in most elections that they cast a ballot in, but they show up anyway.
It’s like in 2016 when Hillary got the nomination, it was, “I’m with her, I guess.” Like that was the prevailing narrative on Twitter. Like, “I guess I’m with her, even though I don’t necessarily want to be with her.”
But they were. And like I said, 94 percent of Black women showed up, right? On the other side of that you had white voters who, if she was somebody who did not excite them, either voted for Donald Trump or stayed home. But, that’s not the calculation that Black people make at the polls.
Right. Absolutely. So, now let’s get into Biden. So, I have so many questions about him, because I do think he’s quite a fascinating character, truthfully. And so, there’s a lot of online critique about Joe Biden, tons of it. So, I’m wondering how the online/Twitter narratives that we get about Biden, how that squares with what you hear from people in your reporting.
Like I tell people all the time, and I have to remind myself of this, so I say it for myself as much as I do for anybody that I say it to, Twitter is not America. It’s not. It is a great place for civil discourse. It is fodder for story ideas for sure. And I’ve met many people on Twitter that I can interview. But Twitter is not America, and that was no more real for me than when I was out on the campaign trail. Remember campaign trails, Julia? That was so long ago. But you know.
Being out on the campaign trail and actually talking to voters, most of them are not in that echo chamber on social media. They—especially in those early primary states—voters were just kind of locked in and really focused on trying to discern which of the candidates of the very crowded field we had this year was going to be best positioned to beat Donald Trump. So they were listening to candidates. They were trying to understand what policies these candidates had. And with Joe Biden, in particular, what I would hear from voters over and over again was not about Hunter Biden, was not about Ukraine, was not about his languishing campaign, it was, “Well, I feel like Joe Biden knows me. And I feel like I know him.” You know, because this man has been in politics for half a century. So this is something that predates even Barack Obama and that bromance that people are familiar with. And that is something that is a thing for people, his loyalty to Barack Obama, especially for Black folks, like that is a thing for some Black folks. But even beyond that. He’s been around for so long.
Now, some of the things that are discussed on Twitter were things that I did hear on the campaign trail. I mean, there certainly are Black voters and Black women and women in general who were concerned about Anita Hill. They feel like that’s unresolved. And this kind of reckoning around gender, as well. You know, I think that’s the thing that people want to hear from him on. But it’s interesting because you have Joe Biden and then you have President Trump who has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women. And you know, so, that is … The issue of gender and women’s safety in America, I think is in this election, period. And not just unique to either one of the candidates.
But, yeah, I think for all of the conversation on Twitter about Joe Biden’s problems, about his electability, about how he was stalling, like, I’m telling you, the Black voters that I talk to … And I will be honest, I was mainly focused … I went to Iowa and New Hampshire, but I knew that this race was not real until we got to South Carolina. Because until Black people weigh in, like, what are we even talking about?
The base of the party had not had a say, right. So, if Black people were unwavering in their support of Joe Biden in poll after poll after poll after poll for months, Joe Biden was your nominee.
Right. I remember early on telling my colleagues in a Slack that Biden was going to be the nominee, and they were so optimistic that I was not right. And I’m just … Like, I’m not going to get into the particulars about who certain people preferred, but I was just like, y’all. Well, Biden is going to be the nominee.
Listen, I mean, honestly the only poll number that I was looking at during the primary was where Black voters were.
Because I knew that whoever … Like the path to the nomination went through Black voters, period. And by Black voters I mean Black women because Black women are the majority of Black voters. Right.
So, like, I knew whoever Black people, and especially Black women, not who they liked, necessarily. They liked several people, right? But when you asked them straight up, “Who is the person, not just the person that you think can beat Donald Trump, but who is the person that you think most white people are going to vote for in America?” Because that’s the real question. Right? When we say that Black voters are pragmatic, their pragmatism is rooted in, “Who can we get behind that y’all are going to get behind so that we can win?”
Because Black people, just like in 2016, if Hillary Clinton won, Black people would have helped to make that happen. But Black people are not the reason that Hillary Clinton lost. This year, Joe Biden cannot win without Black people. But if he loses it will not be because of Black people.
Right. No, that makes sense. And Black voters, particularly Black women, you know, we’re just out here making lemonade out of this whole thing. I mean, I don’t know how else to describe it. Because when we think about gender, and we think about his gaffes, and just so many gaffes for Biden. So many. I don’t even know where to start, truthfully. But, I mean, yeah, we tend to have limited options.
But is the president of the United States not gaffe-prone? Does he not make gaffes?
No, which one, the current one?
Yeah. Like focusing on Joe, is that disqualifying for Democrats?
No. No, no, no, no. And that’s not my point. My point is that Biden is the Democrat, and it has been the most prominent choice for the nomination for quite some time. So, I was just talking about his gaffes. And frankly, I get a little bit tired of thinking about Trump’s. So, maybe I have unfairly been focusing on Biden, because I get so tired of the Trump gaffes.
And so, now, his search for vice president, or his vice presidential nominee, what are you hearing from people about that?
Well, listen, Veepstakes is pretty much all that we political journalists have to focus on for the next three weeks. It’s pretty much been the only story to the extent that there was a story about the campaign, since the pandemic. You know, Joe Biden pledged to pick a woman. As it became more and more clear that he was going to be the nominee and that none of the six women who ran for president this year were anyone that the American electorate wanted to see as their nominee, right? And it’s hugely important because, you know, for as much as we make about the fact that there’s never been a woman for president, there’s never been a woman vice president in the history of the United States either.
So that’s one thing. The second thing is, you know, given everything that this country is dealing with—the dual pandemics that are raging, and that are not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. This is probably the most consequential vice presidential pick in our lifetimes, in terms of what that person is going to be tasked with. I mean, that woman is literally going to be trying to help this president fix America in a number of ways, right? So who that person is and how they will govern—and frankly, given Joe Biden’s age, we have to care about who this person is more than we normally would care about who the vice president of the United States is.
I think amid the national reckoning the chorus has grown louder for him to pick a Black woman, period. I think that the Black women voters that I talk to say … And not just for symbolic reasons. Because obviously it would be hugely symbolic. But, also, because what Black women bring to leading and governing is something they feel the country needs in this moment. Like, Black women have been the caretakers of this democracy since we were enslaved. Even before we could vote, even before we were free. This has been our role in America, right. And our vote is an extension of that, and our leadership is an extension of that. So, when you think about it that way, you know, having a Black woman on the ticket is not just about diversity or balance, right? But it is a politically astute decision for the direction that the party says that it wants to take the country. Right?
I mean the names that everybody else has out there, I think, are real. Senator Harris, certainly being at or near the top of that list, even as the criteria have kind of shifted in the past several months. And Elizabeth Warren, you know, if there’s going to be a white woman, that is the Black … That is the white woman that most Black women voters tell me they are most open to. And she has been polling, I mean not that the voters get to pick the vice president, but when voters are asked who they would like to see as their vice president, Elizabeth Warren is at or near the top for many voters. So, I think that that means that she has to be in serious consideration. This is a white woman who knows how to talk about systemic racism, who did that as a presidential candidate.
Val Demings, congresswoman out of Florida, whose name has come up. She was already on the radar after the impeachment hearings. But, as a former police chief in Orlando she has been speaking to the need for police reform as somebody who was a part of the system and had tried to change it. You know, I think that she is somebody who is maybe not drawing attention to herself as much as maybe some of the other names on the list, but that is on that list nonetheless, and I think is somebody that … My understanding is that she has impressed Vice President Biden. And so, she could be somebody who is named.
Susan Rice, who is not a politician, she’s a policy person. But, of everyone on that list Susan Rice knows the vice president better than anybody. If he’s looking for somebody who he has a simpatico relationship with, not only were they together in the Obama administration, but I mean they go all the way back to when he was in the Senate and she was in the State Department and he was in foreign affairs. You know.
So, yeah, I mean the fact that there are numerous women of color, especially Black women, I think speaks well to a Black woman’s chances for being chosen. It doesn’t feel like that situation where an employer is just interviewing a bunch of Black women for fun, and then is going to pick a white woman in the end. You know what I mean?
Well, that’s good to know.
It doesn’t feel like that. But, you know, what do I know? This entire election cycle has been completely unpredictable. So, I don’t … I don’t even pretend that I can handicap the Veepstakes or know what Vice President Biden is going to do because I do not. So, I should also just offer that disclaimer.
Of course. So you published a piece this morning, and the headline is “Black female voters say they want what they are owed: power.” So, tell me about this story. You talked to a lot of Black women who organize voters and do … My words are failing me, but who do electoral work. And so, tell me about this story. Yeah, I’m very interested to know what you got from people.
Since 2016 I have been kind of hammering the theme that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Right? That they are the … And that they are the caretakers of our democracy. And I’ve written that in various forms in various stories. I’ve tried to show that in my reporting. But, I think that, you know, pulling that together in one story that really just kind of asserted why that is, why that has been historically, and why that may finally yield results for Black women headed into this fall was a story that I felt like was timely and needed to be told now.
I work for a newsroom that is named for the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment obviously giving the right to vote to white women, excluding other women for generations. Black women had to fight twice as hard for the vote. And did not get that until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, really, was passed. But they fought for it nonetheless. A hundred years ago they were there, they were on the front lines pushing for suffrage as well, even though they did not get it. Because they understood the power of the vote.
We’ve been organizing in ways formal and informal for the entirety of the time that we’ve been in this country. And we have uniquely understood the founding ideals of America. And we have really tried to force this country to reckon with making those ideals real for everyone. I would say probably more than anybody.
Like I mentioned earlier, so I live in Philadelphia now. I’m from Atlanta. The cradle of the Civil Rights movement. But, I live in Philadelphia, cradle of democracy, right. And we just celebrated the Fourth of July. The Declaration of Independence was signed here. And you know, I think a lot about what it means to be a citizen in America right now, what it means to participate in this democracy. What it means to think about the idea that this country was founded on protest and dissent. And who gets to protest and dissent is really about who gets to be American.
When the Declaration of Independence was being written a lot of America was not literate. Right? So, what would happen is that they would read the Declaration of Independence in town squares and in people’s homes. And there was an enslaved woman, Elizabeth Freeman, who was in Massachusetts, and this was before the actual declaration, but it was a predecessor to the declaration. She hears basically the words of the Declaration of Independence being read in her … In the home of the man who enslaved her, and immediately understood as a human being that those ideals applied to her. But, of course, she was told no, they did not apply to her. She sued for her freedom and won. And her story is just … She is one of so many ancestors, from her story to Fannie Lou Hamer’s story, like this is who Black women are and this is what they do. And so, wanting to lay that out for people was very important for me.
But also, just the idea that so many of the Black women who have been in this work for so long do feel like something is different about this year. And it’s because of all the work that has come before. Like that work has gotten them to the point where they can now say, “Look. You don’t get to come to us six weeks out and say help us get across the finish line, save us.” Right? You have to come to us from the beginning and ask us what we want. Then when we tell you what we want you have to do what we say. Right?
Like you don’t have a conversation about the very real possibility of a Black woman vice president without that being real. You don’t have a conversation … You don’t have Joe Biden saying, “I’m going to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court for the first time ever.” Like, somebody who tweeted Anita Hill, the way that she was treated. You don’t have that without Black women pushing and forcing that conversation. You don’t have Defund the Police without the Black women activists who are in the streets calling for this to happen in cities around America.
Like that is who is driving that conversation. And so, Black women are … Like the Black women I’ve talked to, it’s a mix of disappointment that the diverse field of candidates has come down to two white men in their 70s. But it is also a hopeful moment that their priorities will finally be put into policy in this country.
There’s this quote in your piece from Dawntoya Thomason and it says … Yeah, her quotes are great. She says, “Black women lose sleep at night over injustice. I don’t want 2020 to come and go where we’ve raised all this hell, and for Joe Biden to get into office and we don’t turn the heat up. I don’t want him to feel like he can rest if he becomes President.” And that got me to thinking about Black Womxn For and why they endorsed Elizabeth Warren, because they felt as though she was a president who would respond to pressure. And I think that right now we’re in a moment where exactly what she said. Black women are just like, “Hey, we’re … Like it’s pressure, pressure, pressure. Like you don’t get to just come through here and use us to get elected. Like, nah, what are you going to do when you get there. And how can we hold you accountable.” So, what have you heard from people you’ve spoken with about holding whoever is in the White House accountable.
Black women overwhelmingly rejected the president in 2016. There’s no indication that things would be any different for him in 2020, right? So, we’re really talking about what is Joe Biden going to have to do for the Black women who made him the earliest Democratic nominee in recent primary history, and who could make him the next president of the United States, right. And I think you see …
Like there are Black women involved in this VP committee selection process. There are Black women in decision-making and policy making decisions on his campaign. There are Black women surrogates that he has across this country who are not only making the case for him, but are making the case to him about the priorities that they have should he be elected.
You know, health care, the economy, and racism, in some order are the top three priorities for Black women, repeatedly. Like that’s what we hear from, over and over again, these are the things they care about. So, if he is not going to address those things he will be hearing from Black women should he get into office. They plan to … What they tell me is that they plan to hold him accountable. And it’s interesting you brought up Elizabeth Warren, because they liked a lot of her ideas. They were open to a lot of what she had to say. But they also made her commit to a certain roster of things that they wanted to see, right? Like should she have become the nominee and should she have been elected. So like even, that was I think November, October or November.
Yeah. Late last year.
Months before the primary even started, a year before the election they were asking her to commit to doing certain things on behalf of Black folks. You know, which I think is really. That’s where Black women are now. They’re like, “What are you going to do for us, and we want assurances of what you’re going to do.”
Right. Because we’re always so tapped in. We know we have to keep track of everything. It’s survival.
Yeah. And Black women saw what was going on with this country long before white men. Right?
And would tell America what was going on with this country long before.
Right. And so, let’s talk about your career, because you’ve been doing this work for quite some time, and you’re someone whose— Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.
Despite my youthful appearance, that’s true. I’ve been at this for a minute. That’s true.
I mean, you don’t look a day over 25, Sis.
And so, you’re someone who has inspired the work of many Black women journalists after you, myself included. And so, how have you seen the coverage of Black women and Black women voters change?
Yeah, well, I mean I think that it is those of us who are in this work, talented journalists like you, who I admire greatly, Maya King who is doing this work, Brittany Shepherd over at Yahoo, I could keep going. But there are Black women who have been telling the truth about our politics and our country. And I think that that has helped to bring along others in political journalism who maybe didn’t necessarily understand. Right? I mean, I say this a lot because it’s something that I realized, after I probably really seriously started covering race in politics full-time, after the 2016 election. And that is that, I mean, I’ve been doing this, like you said, for a minute. It is … Having covered both of those topics I know that it is easier to learn how to cover politics than it is to learn how to cover race.
And yet, race is the story of our politics and has been since at least 2008. So anybody who’s been practicing journalism for the past decade and a half should be well versed in what race, identity politics—and that includes white folks—and racism looks like and how that shows up in our politics. Like they must understand that, or they’re not covering this accurately.
Like this is not about anybody’s feelings. This is about leaving the most accurate and honest record behind, which is supposed to be one of the central tenets of journalism, right? Like race reporting at its best does that. And you know, we’re not talking about politics right now, unless we are talking about race. And I think that having more Black journalists, and especially Black women in the mix, because we know the importance of Black voters, but also women being the majority of the electorate, right? Like it is important to have that intersection looking at this country and writing and reporting on this country.
Right, it’s not about how people feel. And me and Wes were talking about this last week, about how when we start talking about race and we start talking about racism, white people feel like that’s the worst possible thing you can ever say to another white person is that they’re racist. And we see how that affects the work that they do because they don’t want to just outright say that something is racist or someone did something racist. Because they think it’s an indictment of someone’s character.
And that matters. It mattered in 2016. Right? Like I think that the reason that so many white journalists had a hard time calling out racism when they saw it in the 2016 campaign is because they have friends or family members who subscribed to similar views. They did not think of those people as racist. They thought of them as good people. Racism is an extreme thing. It’s tiki torches in Charlottesville and it’s running over protesters. It has to be in your face, overt, cross burning in your yard, hood on in your face, that is racism. As opposed to the microaggressions. As opposed to the systemic, institutional racism that happens every day. And that is part of our lived experience. Because … Like our lived experience has been an asset to our journalism. And their inability, or unwillingness to think about what it means to be a white person in America has been a liability.
We have a perspective that they don’t. And it allows us to be more honest about whether or not something is racist.
Correct. Or just more honest about America, period.
Yes. And that’s not subjective, those are just facts. I mean, it’s … Anyway. You know the vibes. So we do have some viewer questions. Denise asks, “How seriously should we take Kanye West’s 2020 presidential bid?”
Until I see an FEC filing, Denise, I’m not taking anything seriously. That’s all I can say about that. Until we have an FEC filing this isn’t real.
I feel like it’s … It just feels like a stunt to me. Granted, I know that that’s what was said about our current president back in 2015.
Yeah, but, he filed for president, and he came down the escalator and handed an announcement. You can’t announce that you’re running for president on Twitter. And you know, we know that several state deadlines have passed at this point. Like, again, FEC … I have not given one character on Twitter to this conversation, and I will not until I see an FEC filing.
Yeah. I just, I mean, I think my short answer to this question is I don’t care, so I don’t know why anyone else should. All right. And so, our next question is from Nisah, I hope I’m saying that correctly. If I’m not I am so sorry, and you can comment and tell me that my tongue is thick and country, and I can’t speak right. But, they asked, “So, Biden is the nominee, what is he doing to deserve my vote?”
I think that that is for you to decide. You know? I mean, he is certainly running a campaign that he is saying is about a battle for the soul of America. That he’s trying to be inclusive. That seems to me a message that contrasts that of the president who is being divisive and using a racial playbook to incite his mostly white supporters. But yeah, I mean, I think that is the question that all voters are going to have to ask themselves headed into November. You know, has the vice president earned your vote?
I mean I certainly know many people … We know that voter participation in this country is abysmal. And I know that part of the reason for that is because there are so many Americans for whom it really does not matter who is in the White House. That does not change the circumstances of their daily life. So, they have not … They are not people who grew up believing that voting was essential. The idea that somebody bled and died for them to be able to vote is not something that necessarily resonates with them. So they do need a reason to vote.
And non-voters are … And I’m not saying that that’s who you are, Nisah, please don’t take this the wrong way. But, you know, they are a constituency to be courted as well. And folks, I think that to think that we are now in a stage of this election where they should be only focused on turnout instead of persuasion would be a mistake.
There are still many people that need to be persuaded even though there’s a nominee.
And I think when we talk about deservedness, that’s just such a personal thing. I mean, I don’t know like, what deserving … What a candidate does to deserve my vote is going to be different than what they do to deserve your vote. We’re just going to care about different things. Even if they fall under the same umbrella, of like education. We might care about different pieces of education. So, that’s just a very personal thing.
What I will say is that there are … The current president is dangerous and creating dangerous conditions in this country for people who are not white. So, I think that matters too, whenever we start talking about going to the polls. And our last question is from Alicia. And she asks, “Do you see a generational difference in white journalists on race and calling out racism?” That’s a good one.
That is a good one. You know, I think because you have younger white journalists who grew up in a more diverse environment in a lot of cases talking about race may come more easily to some of them than it comes to older white journalists who have not, necessarily, always been used to or comfortable with having those types of conversations.
That said, I know older white people, including white people in journalism who are among those that are buying up all those books on race right now on Amazon Prime, and are trying to catch up. Right. Are trying to learn, are trying to do better. Because what you have to remember about those white people also is that, you know, many of them grew up amid an national reckoning on race. Right? Many of them were around when the first Black journalists came into a newsroom. So, it’s not as if they don’t know about the history of this country. Some of them lived it. They just haven’t necessarily thought very much about it, or thought about their role in it.
But then there are others who have. One of my close friends in this business, Hank Klibanoff, who co-wrote the “The Race Beat” talked about covering the Civil Rights movement as a white journalist. There are white folks who, if they have done their work, and that includes white journalists, if they have done the work of interrogating privilege, who are having these conversations and who are doing this reporting.
But, I think that most white people in America, and that includes white people in the newsroom, are not comfortable talking about race because they do not spend nearly as much time as we do thinking about it.
And that’s that on that. So, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your perspective. And again, you’re one of the journalists I admire. So, I’m very, very thankful that you came on.
Well, it is a mutual admiration society. Keep up the good work. Keep telling the truth in public.
We need you. You matter. I will be reading. And I’ll be watching, because, yeah, it’s all hands on deck out here for this election. Because I know we didn’t expect it to go the way that it’s going, but it is an extraordinary year to be covering, nonetheless, and so you know, I think … Telling the truth about who and where we are in this moment is on all of us. So thanks everybody, for watching.
Yes. Thank y’all for watching. And I’ll be back next week to talk to somebody else. All right. Y’all take care.
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.
Join Slate Plus