Black women are the most loyal demographic in the Democratic Party—not white women, not Black men, and certainly not white men.
This isn’t conjecture. These are the facts: 70% of eligible Black women voters turned out at the polls in 2008 and 2012. That number is higher than any other racial or gender group. According to an open letter sent by nearly three dozen black women activists, community leaders, and elected officials to Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, Black women in general overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates. The letter details the same support in 2016, when 94% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. In 2017 and 2018 as well, we helped the party deliver huge victories in races from Alabama to Virginia.
Yet how do Democrats show their appreciation of such stalwart support? They don’t—at least not during the primary campaign season. Instead, Democrats continue the antiquated tradition of holding their early nominating contests in two of the whitest states in the nation—Iowa and New Hampshire. Neither state comes close to reflecting the racially diverse demographic makeup of the party.
Julián Castro, the former HUD secretary under President Obama and Democratic presidential hopeful, bravely raised this point last week. He told MSNBC that it is hypocritical for Democrats to “continually and justifiably” complain about Republicans who engage in voter intimidation tactics when Democrats back a primary structure that is in no way reflective of the country’s demographic makeup or conducive to helping black candidates get off on the right foot.
“I actually do believe that we do need to change the order of the states,” Castro said in the MSNBC interview. “Demographically, it’s not reflective of the U.S. as a whole, certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party, and I believe other states should have their chance.”
Castro went even further in an interview with Vogue.
“We can’t go around thanking black women for powering Democrats to victory all over the country, and then at the same time hold our first caucus and our first primary in states that have almost no African-Americans,” Castro said. “We’re right to call Republicans out when they suppress the votes of African-Americans or Latinos, but we’ve also got to recognize that this 50-year-old process was created during a time when minority voices had zero power in the party.”
That time’s up.
Kamala Harris shouldn’t have to wait until nearly one month after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries to see a higher concentration of voters who resemble her in the South Carolina and Nevada primary races. Neither should Cory Booker, Wayne Messam and Deval Patrick.
This is no jury of their peers. In a crowded field of presidential hopefuls looking to become the Democratic nominee, momentum matters. Winning Iowa and New Hampshire provides momentum, which has proven valuable in helping to shape the trajectory of presidential primary races. Barack Obama’s 2008 surprise Iowa Caucus victory over Hillary Clinton and Clinton’s 2016 narrow defeat of Bernie Sanders are perfect examples of this. It is past time for Democrats to either push back the primary dates so that all states vote at one time, or start off the primary season with states that more closely resemble the browning of America— not two of the whitest and most rural states in the country. Also, New Hampshire is one of the oldest by population, according to Business Insider.
According to 2018 data from the Pew Research Center, the Democratic Party is now comprised of 59% white people and 40% minorities, compared with the Republican Party, which is roughly 83% white. Of all the Democrats’ most faithful voting blocs, Black women have shown themselves to be the most loyal to the party.
Democrats need to return the favor and show Black women some respect by not continuing to structure the primary in a way that is not reflective of the party’s diversity. And if they are slow to action, we need to become more vocal in demanding it.
“Black women have been the most loyal supporters of the Democratic Party, through thick and thin,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, an advisor to the Black Women’s Roundtable, at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C. in September. Democrats are more interested in going after “white male voters who have not supported the Democratic Party for 50 years” than “watering the garden in your own backyard.”
I have voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since I turned 18. I’m firmly in the ABT camp (Anybody-But-Trump) for 2020. Castro’s comments struck a chord because they echo how I’ve been feeling for the past several years. I want to know why my party’s actions and words don’t always jibe. I want to know what all this support is worth. I want to be seen and heard and valued. I don’t want to be brushed off.
And I’m not the only one.
According to The Washington Post, although 73% of black women currently say they have confidence in the Democratic Party, this nod of confidence is down from 85% in 2016, and 74% in 2017. Where numbers dip even further are with young black women between the ages of 25 to 35, of which “only 45% agreed that the Democrats best represented their interest(s), with nearly one-third indicating that no party represents them.”
Are you listening Democratic National Committee?
I want to remind Democrats that it’s often this disillusionment and disharmony that is to blame for why people opt out of the voting process altogether, and we can’t afford that.
Democratic Party leaders need to walk their talk. And one way to do this is to hold the primary elections in a way that fully and fairly reflects the racial demographics of America that they claim to represent.
This isn’t identity politics. Optics matter.
So do real actions.
Dawn Onley is a DMV-based, award-winning writer who has written for large daily newspapers, magazines, and blogs, including Women Who Hope, which she co-founded. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.