The media has given us a frustratingly sexist and racist narrative that the only formidable Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election is a white man. We have been bombarded with headlines and sound bites that reinforce the idea that only a white man can beat Donald Trump in 2020.
Ironically, this is happening on the backdrop of an election cycle that will have the most diverse field of Democratic candidates based on gender, race, and sexuality ever in this country’s history. There are more women running, people of color, and candidates with a broad spectrum of ideas and backgrounds, but the mainstream narrative continues to center around the idea that the only “electable” presidential candidates are white men. Why are we so obsessed with the notion that only a white man can save us from Trump? Fact is, as the American electorate becomes younger and more diverse, there is a growing desire for candidates that are also more reflective of this new electorate.
We are in a defining moment in this country’s political history and voters are looking for something different. We believe that the majority of voters want a reflective democracy. Last year’s blue wave gave us the most diverse Congress in our history, with over 100 women serving in the House for the first time ever. A record 37% of them were women of color. And it wasn’t an accident—women and candidates of color were more likely to win their primary races, proving that the electorate hungers for more diverse leadership and reflective democracy.
Another data point: no white male presidential candidate has ever hit 63 million votes. Two candidates have hit 65 million: a black man, and a white woman. Makes sense, doesn’t it, that candidates that look like America get more votes, right?
Sure there are those that refer to the fact that Biden is currently polling higher than most of the other Democratic candidates. Yet we are much too early in the election cycle to actually know and/or be able to determine who will win the Democratic nomination, much less determine who is more “electable” as a result. Indeed, the first Democratic primary debate turned the race upside down, with Kamala Harris piercing Biden’s veil of invincibility and inevitability. And with eight months to the first contests, and with countless campaign events, forums, debates, and news cycles until then, Biden’s current lead, as thin as it already is, means nothing right now. Recent history (and the last few weeks!) have taught us two things: polls are not necessarily the determinant of who actually wins and in a highly competitive political environment anything can shift in a matter of weeks or even days. Trump’s election as president is solid evidence for both points.
Ironically, the elections of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump shared a commonality: voters looking for change. Very different change, but change nevertheless. Voters want to see a “different kind” of candidate representing them, whether in Congress or in the White House. In a Monmouth University poll conducted in August 2018, 52% of respondents said they preferred an outsider candidate while only 25% said they preferred an insider candidate for Congress. Nothing has changed since then.
We’re in a transitional moment in America when democracy can be completely unraveled or it can be made real. We desperately need a leader who can take us on the path toward a more fair, inclusive and just society. We need a leader that values humanity and is a champion for the human, civil and political rights of the people in this country. We need a leader that is stern and strong, yet compassionate and just. We need a leader that values people over profit and centers American progress over self-aggrandizement.
What this nation needs is the leadership of a black woman.
Generation after generation of black women have been voices of truth, consciousness, and authenticity so that democracy could be realized in this country. Our progressive voice consistently shows up, yet historically we have been marginalized or muted, underrepresented in positions of political leadership and power.
This year marks 400 since enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of America. For more than four centuries black women have been on the vanguard of change and the fiercest voices for democracy and in the fight to expand opportunity, not just for themselves, but for all. For that reason, among many, we need a black woman to lead this nation.
We need a leadership that is bold, authentic, and ready to speak truth to power.
It’s not just that black women vote most progressively—though that’s very important. I bet on black women because there is a long, rich history and tradition of black women holding space when others did not step up. In other words, black women have historically used their voices, leadership skills, and in some cases their bodies to protect and create safe spaces for others to express themselves and/or their feelings.
Ida B. Wells
Black women have shown that they believe in collective power and are not afraid to challenge enemies of democracy. Ida B. Wells used her platform as a journalist to raise issues around
democracy and was on the frontline in the anti-lynching fight and the fight for the freedom of the press. “A key black leader in the women’s suffrage movement, she was asked to march at the back of the parade so that Southern white women could feel comfortable.” Yet she persisted to stand for the rights for all women.
We can look to Shirley Chisholm, who changed the political landscape in 1972 by daring to run for president even though no one considered her electable. Her courage and boldness blazed the
trail that opened the way for the six women candidates currently running for president. In launching her campaign, Chisholm said: “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.” Forty-seven later and Chisholm’s prophetic voice is more relevant than ever. In light of Trump’s most recent comments directed at women of color, we need new bold voices that will challenge while male racist patriarchy.
We can also look to Fannie Lou Hamer and Mary McLeod Bethune—two southern women that used their gifts, resources, and intellect to shift the national discourse around issues like democracy, voting rights, and education in addition to expanding economic opportunities for all Americans. Fannie Lou Hamer challenged the Democratic party by demanding that black Mississippians would be recognized and seated with the Mississippi Democratic party delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention. Mary McLeod Bethune was so effective at mobilizing black voters for Franklin Roosevelt that she was appointed to his “Black Cabinet’ to advise him on issues and concerns of black people and also help share Roosevelt’s message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters.
America needs a black woman leader with the spirit and the vision of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Colors,
and Opal Tometi, three black, queer women who changed the world by centering the consciousness around Black Lives Matter. We need the energy of Tarana Burke, who in the midst of her own survivorship created a space and a voice for sexual abuse survivors all around the world, inspiring generations of survivors to come forward, share their story, and stand in their power. We desperately need a leader that is not afraid to confront those that seek to dismantle democracy, stand against unprincipled leadership, and has the courage to speak truth to power like Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
We need leadership that will center the lives of ALL men, women, and children.
Black women—like my ancestors and so many others—had such a nurturing, mothering spirit and deep sense of humanity that they suckled the babies of their white counterparts while their own babies were stolen from their breast and sold on the auction block. Black women worked as domestic workers, fed and took care of other people’s children, parents, and the elderly, all while being treated as less than human, while their own children and their own parents were being mistreated.
We need a leader with a deep commitment and love for humanity—like the underpaid mother, undervalued by her employer, who barely has enough to feed her children, but always finds a way to feed the neighborhood. This is a leadership that centers the health and wellness of all our children. This is the type of leadership that will always have the will to find a way to take care of others.
This was the spirit of black women like Marian Wright Edelman and Dr. Doris Derby, who came together in Mississippi in the ‘60s and created a breakfast feeding program that many schools have since adopted and therefore millions of children have been fed a nutritious meal—many of which may not have eaten anything before the start of their school day. We need leadership in the tradition of
Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, whose strength and deep sense of obligation to advancing humanity came from their spiritual groundedness, their connection to a greater source and their ability to obtain victories in the midst of great challenges while their own lives were targeted. We need the leadership of those that never give up.
We need leadership that keeps fighting for justice when faced with opposition.
Stacey Abrams, while campaigning for governor.
We need black women leadership like Stacey Abrams, who had the tenacity and the commitment to move beyond other people’s criticism of her appearance, marital status, and her approach to inspire millions of Georgians and millions of Americans. In spite of Abrams being the former minority leader for the Georgia state legislature, a seasoned elected official, a trained Yale-educated attorney, and respected business owner and community leader, she was repeatedly attacked by white Republicans including Donald Trump as not being “qualified” enough to serve as governor. Yet she remained focused. Even once the election was taken from her through rampant and overt voter suppression, she didn’t retreat. She took that experience and turned it into a lightning rod to fight voter suppression. We need that kind of energy and spirit to run this country.
To be sure, I have witnessed this embodiment in many forms. I’ve seen it in black women, white women, Asian women, Latina women, men. But we’re in an era when having to work on the margins of society as a black person and as a woman creates a uniquely qualified person who brings a particular perspective that can transform this country.
While I am happy that Kamala Harris is running, I am not yet sure if she is the woman for this time—if she is, she will certainly get my vote—but this is a conversation that goes beyond Kamala Harris. This is a conversation about the consciousness of America and the type of leadership that America needs. We need a black woman who comes out of our rich history of resistance, speaks truth to power, is un-bought and un-bossed, centers the lives of men, women, and children, and has a deep love for humanity, democracy, and justice. I may not know who this black woman is at this moment but what I know for sure is that America needs her.
LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and a senior fellow at Prism.