When the United States Constitution was completed on September 17, 1787, women and people of color were arguably excluded and marginalized. The first three words of the Preamble—“We the People”—were written to affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. Moreover, it proclaims who is adopting the Constitution. This poses a conundrum for Black women because it suggests that we intentionally adopted provisions that purposely underserved us. Or, as the late Hon. Barbara Jordan once said, “I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake.”
Still, a Black woman’s presence on the presidential ticket and in the White House—by itself—is not enough. Black women are not interested in tokenism and symbolism. Systemic change is required.
When the Framers of the Constitution drafted the governing document during the Constitutional Convention, enslaved African Americans, then-referred to in the text as “other persons,” were counted as three-fifths of a free person for taxation and congressional representation purposes. This was done under the Three-Fifths Compromise proposed by delegate James Wilson of Pennsylvania and seconded by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. However, such a compromise would later be repealed by the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Despite the initial stature relegated to us, in recent years, Black women have become a powerful voting bloc. In 2008, with the help and support of Black women, Barack Obama became the first African American ever elected president of the United States. Moreover, during the 2018 midterm elections, 55% of non-Hispanic Black women turned out to vote, a slightly higher share than for the total voting-age population. According to the Pew Research Center, Black women voted for Democratic congressional candidates 92% of the time. Meaning, African American women voted for Democratic candidates at a higher rate than any other demographic—across gender, race, and ethnicity—in the United States.
Nonetheless, the Democratic Party has overlooked and undervalued the support of Black women. However, that could change under a Joseph R. Biden Administration.
In his campaign promise to “Build Back Better,” Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has vowed to prioritize the full inclusion of and equality for women—particularly women of color.
As President, Mr. Biden has said that he “will pursue an aggressive and comprehensive plan to further women’s economic and physical security and ensure that women can fully exercise their civil rights.” Specifically, The Biden Agenda for Women will improve economic security, expand access to health care and tackle health inequities, help women navigate work and families, end violence against women, and protect and empower women around the world.
To hold steadfast to his promise, Joe Biden knows that he must enlist the help of Black women. In doing so, his first order of business was selecting Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, making her the first-ever African American woman and the first woman of Asian descent nominated for vice president by a major political party.
On August 19th, Senator Harris accepted the Democratic Party’s historic vice-presidential nomination. If elected, Harris would be the sixth African American woman to ever enter the line of succession for the presidency of the United States, behind former cabinet members Patricia Roberts Harris, Hazel R. O’Leary, Alexis M. Herman, Condoleezza Rice, and Loretta E. Lynch.
Biden was astute in naming Senator Harris as his running mate. Not only does Senator Harris have a multicultural background, but she is uniquely aligned with the African American community in a way that no president or vice president has ever been before. Senator Harris attended Howard University, a historically black university and the so-called “Mecca” of Black education, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first historically African American Greek-letter sorority.
Still, a Black woman’s presence on the presidential ticket and in the White House—by itself—is not enough. Black women are not interested in tokenism and symbolism. Systemic change is required. To improve the quality of life for Black women and their families, transformative laws, policies, reforms, and initiatives must be put in place.
Biden pledged that, if elected president, he would nominate the first African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Vice President Biden is cognizant of the necessary changes that must take effect to empower Black women and he has a plan.
After becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee, Biden pledged that, if elected president, he would nominate the first African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a nomination and subsequent Senate confirmation would not only be historic, but it has the potential to have a generational impact on the judicial system—especially the criminal justice system, the African American community, and our Nation.
Additionally, Biden has vowed to address the gender and racial wage gap that disproportionately impacts women of color, particularly Black women.
On average, Black women make $0.62 (cents) for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. According to Equal Pay Day, Black women had to work an additional seven and a half months this year, on top of the 12 months they worked last year, to make as much as their white male, non-Hispanic counterparts in 2019.
Such statistics are staggering given that 80% of Black women are the primary breadwinners for their household, roughly two-thirds of Black women are the head of households, and a large percentage of Black women have a high debt-to-income ratio due to student loans.
On August 13th, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Vice President Biden acknowledged the discrepancy by stating, “Black women are the backbone of their families, communities, our economy, and our country. And we will ensure they earn the pay, and the dignity and respect they deserve.”
In addition, Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” proposal for Black America can make far-reaching investments in ending health disparities by race. African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), Blacks (and Latinos) in the U.S. are three times more likely to become infected than their white counterparts. Additionally, Black (and Latino) people are nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people.
Per the CDC, “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” Underlying factors that contribute to these increased risks include discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, occupation, educational, income, and wealth gaps, and housing.
Suffice it to say, several issues are plaguing the African American community and must be addressed in the upcoming election.
On November 3rd, Americans will cast their ballots to decide who will be President and Vice President for the next four years. Black women are at a critical juncture because, in large part, we have a say in who that will be. The Black community has a lot at stake in this election—education, healthcare, the economy, environmental justice, criminal justice, and voting rights. Black women have to be forward-thinking in deciding who to vote for.
If Black women are to be included in “We the People,” we must elect leaders who will ensure and guarantee our full inclusion, participation, and representation in the democratic process. I urge you to consider what Black women stand to gain under a Joseph R. Biden Administration.
LaTreshia A. Hamilton, J.D. is a lawyer, writer, and global affairs professional from Houston, Texas. She holds a Juris Doctor from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, a Master of Arts in Global Affairs from Rice University’s James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy and the School of Social Sciences, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Texas Tech University.
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