Black women are ambitious — that’s why we need more in office

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When presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, history was made. Harris is the first African American woman and the first Southeast Asian woman to run as vice president on a major political party ticket. But the day of his announcement also was a day of warning. The Biden-Harris ticket belongs to a new America, one that is struggling through a deadly pandemic, a devastating recession and a toxic racist environment, often stoked by Trump administration dog whistles. Faced with the prospect of the first Black woman vice president, the white male patriarchy is not likely to go quietly into the night.

Experience tells us that Harris (D-Calif.) will face a barrage of racist and sexist attacks. As Black women, we’re constantly being told to “wait our turn,” don’t be “too angry,” don’t be too “pushy,” “uppity” or “ambitious,” in attempts to keep us away from the seats of power and put us in our place. But Black women know exactly where our place is — and that’s the mayor’s office, the state legislature, Congress and, yes, the White House. 

We’re putting the media and opposition on notice about the sexist and racist attacks. To be clear: We’re not saying that Harris, as a public official, is untouchable. We are simply demanding that she be treated like her white male predecessors. 

Black women leaders often do not enjoy that courtesy. The president frequently has made baseless personal attacks on Black women members of Congress and journalists. The Trump base also has gone after prominent Black women, including attacks on Michelle Obama’s appearance. It is one thing to critique Harris’s political positions, but another to attack her on her appearance, how she laughs and other issues that have nothing to do with her qualifications to hold office.

We want people to take notice: The disrespect that targets Black women will not be tolerated. Do not underestimate our conviction, our support of our sister, or our votes. Thanks to Black women voters, old, white men in the Democratic Party have enjoyed a plum deal. They have done the bare minimum to appease us and — by simply not being overtly and oppressively racist, and by having a “D” next to their names — they have taken for granted that Black women will obediently fall into line behind them and eagerly cast our votes for them. Nominating a Black woman to be vice president is a giant step in the right direction. But we need more. 

We need and demand that Kamala Harris and all Black women be treated respectfully. We demand that our issues be prioritized. We’re not merely along for the ride; as voters we’re taking the wheel and driving. We know that our votes can change the direction of this country and we won’t stop until our lives and the lives of our sisters and brothers, children and parents are made better. Not only do we demand a seat at the table, but we also expect to head some of the tables of power.

Black women who are about the business of change and who are leaders are always going to be targeted by people who want to keep us down. Black women leaders, such as Harris — only the second Black woman to be elected to the Senate — are used to it. It will not deter us from moving forward and, in the November presidential election, it will not deter us from casting our votes, in large numbers, for change.

Marcela Howell is president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. Follow her on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.

Tags Black voters Black women Civil rights and liberties Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Kamala Harris Karen Bass Keisha Lance Bottoms Michelle Obama Mitch McConnell Val Demings women's suffrage

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