Why Biden needs a black woman as his VP

Why Biden needs a black woman as his VP
© Greg Nash

Presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE has the opportunity to make history with his vice presidential pick.

Some political commentary suggests that Biden’s options are between a woman of color to appease the progressive wing of the party, and a white woman from the Midwest to attract rural and Midwestern voters. But this political analysis creates an unhelpful binary that ignores that a black woman may be able to do both.

There are a number of excellent black women who would be able to excite the base and motivate black voters from the Midwest to vote, including Stacey Abrams, Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBuilding back a better vice presidency Stacey Abrams nominated to board of solar energy firm Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE, Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Rep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general MORE and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Will media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? Evidence for a GOP takeover mounts — Democrats must act fast MORE. These candidates would be able to turn out voters in the Midwest and excite disaffected black voters who feel ignored by the Democratic establishment.


Firstly, in order to see the path to victory in 2020, we need to learn from the missteps in 2016.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE selected a vice presidential candidate from the Midwest that many hoped would attract white, working-class voters to the polls. However, President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE’s anti-immigrant populism and exploitation of racial resentment proved persuasive for this group. It would be a mistake for Democrats to again focus on courting a VP that they perceive as appealing to white, working-class voters while alienating black voters in their base.

In 2016, many black strategists complained that they were unable to get resources from the Clinton campaign. Black political strategists and politicians from Florida pleaded for additional resources and campaign materials, and they were ignored. Polls before the 2016 election showed that Clinton was unable to excite black voters in Detroit and other parts of Michigan. These polls were right, and black voters stayed home. 

Despite this, 2016 post-election commentary immediately focused on the white, working class, ignoring how the black working class and progressive voters played a crucial role in deciding the race. For instance, one study found that although 9 percent of those who voted for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWe must eliminate nuclear weapons, but a 'No First Use' Policy is not the answer Building back a better vice presidency Jill Biden unveils traditional White House holiday décor MORE in 2012 supported Donald Trump in 2016, 7 percent of Obama voters stayed home, and 3 percent of Obama voters voted for a third party. These voters were more likely to be nonwhite and young. Black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years, from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016. These data suggest that black voters should not be taken for granted in this election.

While Biden had strong support from black voters during the Democratic primary, there is no guarantee black voters will show up for him in November, especially in light of their racial, health disparities during this global pandemic and the anticipated attempts at voter suppression. In fact, there is some evidence black voters would be more likely to turn out to vote if Biden selected a black woman as his vice president candidate.

Picking a black woman for VP also makes sense for four additional reasons: Detroit, Milwaukee, Miami and Philadelphia. These cities are in crucial battleground states for the electoral collage, and voter turnout in each of these cities decreased during the last presidential election. Clinton lost Michigan by 10,000 votes, while more than 70,000 Obama voters did not vote at all during that election. Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes while 230,000 Obama voters in Wisconsin did not vote. 

Abrams, Harris, Demings and Pressley all have the experience and ability to serve from Day 1. While they will undoubtedly have to contend with media’s pervasive misogyny, and misogynoir, the racialized sexism particular to black women often perpetuated by black male commentators, they are all competent and capable of dealing with these challenges.

Black women have consistently supported the Democratic party, and there is a growing sentiment that their support is taken for granted. The Democratic Party is remarkably un-diverse at its highest level. There are few black political consultants, and black people are underrepresented amongst the top staff in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite these shortcomings, black women have shown up for the party by overwhelmingly voting for Democrats in previous elections. It’s time for party to show up for black women.

Isy India Thusi is an associate professor of law at California Western School of Law, where she teaches criminal procedure and critical race theory. She is also a legal fellow at The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab.