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OPINION

Biden must choose a Black woman for vice president

In this perilous moment, no one else can speak more eloquently from the lived experience of battling racism and sexism, of working to uphold the fragile promises of our democracy.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice at a March 2014 briefing in the White House. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is in the final stages of selecting his running mate; Rice is among the contenders.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice at a March 2014 briefing in the White House. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is in the final stages of selecting his running mate; Rice is among the contenders.Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

When he endorsed Joe Biden as the Democrats’ best choice to defeat President Trump, Representative John Lewis made clear who should share the ticket with the former vice president.

“It would be good to have a woman of color,” Lewis told CBS News in April. “It would be good to have a woman that looks like the rest of America: smart, gifted, a fighter, a warrior. . . . I think the time has long passed to make the White House look like the whole of America.”

Lewis did not live to see this happen, but he was right: Biden should choose a Black woman as the next Democratic vice presidential nominee.

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Some of the women under consideration include Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois; Susan Rice, former US ambassador to the United Nations; Representatives Val Demings of Florida and Karen Bass of California; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; and Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state representative and gubernatorial candidate.

Any of these accomplished women would help Biden. Yet in this extraordinary era marked by street protests against white supremacy and systemic racism, and a pandemic devastating communities of color, a Black woman needs to be on the ticket with Biden.

In this perilous moment, no one else can speak more eloquently from the lived experience of battling racism and sexism. No group of Americans has worked harder to uphold the fragile promises of our democracy. In a nation under siege from this clenched-fist administration, Black women understand the remedies for what ails this nation because they continue to be disproportionately harmed by its failures.

I don’t say this lightly. During the primary season, Warren was the best candidate. She has done more than any white politician in recent memory to recognize the generational pain this country has pathologically inflicted on Black people. She has offered not just sympathy, but solutions to tackle such issues as mass incarceration and Black maternal mortality rates.

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Warren’s selection would be welcomed by progressive Democrats. Some are already concerned that a weak party’s platform will show that “any claims to allyship and solidarity with our work to fight for Black liberation are for naught,” as Patrisse Cullors, a Black Lives Matter cofounder, said Monday during a Democratic National Committee virtual party platform meeting. This year demands not just promises, but revolution.

Black women do not vote against their own best interest. They are the most active and loyal Democratic voters, and they vote to save themselves (since no one else will). Often that is a vote that benefits this nation.

It is also true that Black women in politics are subjected to a level of scrutiny that their white counterparts evade. As Harris was assailed for her prosecutorial record as a San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general (the “Kamala is a cop” meme was particularly toxic), less was said about Senator Amy Klobuchar’s history as a self-proclaimed “tough-on-crime” Minnesota prosecutor, who often punted on police violence. Only after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, in May, did Klobuchar’s record in that city become enough of an issue that she withdrew her name from vice presidential consideration.

No choice will satisfy everyone. One candidate may be too progressive, another not progressive enough. Biden’s VP decision is an even more heated topic because he is 77, and, should he win, might not run for a second term. There’s a decent chance that Biden’s pick will become America’s first woman president.

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Of course, representation matters, yet this isn’t about mere symbolism. It would affirm what Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts often says: “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” Black women have always led – tirelessly, often without respect or credit even within their own communities, and at great personal risk. At a time when America stands on the precipice of progress or an even more dizzying fall, a Black woman is uniquely qualified to uplift social justice and stand against the racial inequities crippling this country.

Black women protect this nation’s soul and must be centered in its future — and that includes being a heartbeat from the presidency. It is an overdue moment that would be right on time to help propel a seminal movement.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.