A conversation with Black Women about Biden picking Warren for VP
theGrio's Dr. Jason Johnson speaks with Black women on how they'd respond if Biden does not choose Kamala Harris as expected
I love alternative history stories, the idea that the slightest change, a missed train, a left turn or a right could completely change world events is part of what makes politics interesting.
What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was never assassinated? Would he have changed the course of American history or fallen out of favor by the 80s as a throwback to a bygone era?
What if Obama’s first Senate opponent, Jack Ryan, never dropped out of the race in a wife-swapping scandal? Would Obama have still won in 2004 and run for president in 2008 or would he still be a state senator in Illinois?
These are the What If’s that haunt Black politics, now heading into the 2020 presidential election we’ve got another one. What if Democratic presidential presumptive nominee Joe Biden picks Sen. Elizabeth Warren to be his running mate in 2020?
I talked to a group of Black women in politics, law and media, one part Dora Milaje one part Ms. Cleo, to tell us what would happen if Biden made that choice.
Biden won’t announce his running mate until sometime in early August so everything until that point is just speculation. However, we know Biden has committed to picking a woman, and many prominent Black women in politics, activism and media have made it clear that Biden owes Black people, and Black women voters in particular.
Picking Sen. Kamala Harris with her qualifications and profile is the best way to pay that debt. In fact, until recently it’s been pretty much assumed that Harris had the job.
Author and political analyst Tiffany D. Cross recently discussed her thoughts on Biden’s VP picks on The View.
In the last few weeks, sources both in and out of the Biden campaign say that Warren’s stock is rising in the Veepstakes, despite the fact that she is obviously not a Black woman.
What’s more, the Massachusetts senator couldn’t name 5 Black people that politically inspired her, and spent years lying about her Native American ancestry. However, there are some Black people who’d have no problem with Biden picking the former alleged Cherokee over Senator Skee-wee.
Activists Phillip Agnew and Angela Peoples went so far as to pen an op-ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday entitled: “Biden Needs a Running Mate Committed to Black Lives: That’s Elizabeth Warren.”
On the scale of hot takes, the 70 plus-year-old progressive white woman cares about Black lives more than the woman who is actually Black is right up there with Terry Crews decrying the dangers of encroaching Black supremacy and Kanye West being just as good for Black people as Biden.
You can make that case, but I’d duck for cover soon afterward. I say this as someone who has been critical of Warren, but I very much like her politics, just like I’ve criticized Harris but think she’s qualified and is most likely going to be Biden’s selection.
Ultimately, I have no dog in this fight other than wanting Trump out of the white house. Since much of this VP pick boils down to issues of gender and representation, the wisest course of action is to defer to the insights of Black women about how a Warren pick might change the course of the 2020 race.
So I spoke to a group of Black women on condition of anonymity (we changed names and altered job descriptions to protect them) and asked them the following question: What would you think about Joe Biden picking Elizabeth Warren for his running mate, and what impact if any do think it would have on Black voters especially Black women?
I got an earful and the responses not nearly as uniform as you might think, given the stakes of the election.
Most of the women agreed that Black people would turn out in 2020 no matter what, but that choosing Warren over a qualified Black woman would sting.
Shauna, professional consultant: “Biden understands that he’s running against Beelzebub, and he’ll get 90% of the Black vote. But I will say in terms of the level of enthusiasm, in terms of volunteering? I ain’t making no donations, or phone calls or volunteering if he picks Elizabeth Warren. I’ll still vote though.”
Carla, lawyer and media commentator: “I think she’s (Warren) not the right choice. I would be disappointed first and foremost; because I believe that the best pick for this post right now will be Senator Kamala Harris. Her Blackness is not even at the top of my list as to why. I’m gonna be pissed [if it’s Warren] but there’s too much at stake in this election for Black folks for me to throw a hissy fit and not vote.”
Others argued that Warren is actually the ONLY white woman that they’d be willing to accept from Biden if he doesn’t pick Senator Harris or another Black woman.
Janet, activist and consultant: “I want it to be a Black woman but I wouldn’t be mad if it’s Elizabeth. My concern is that for a lot of people they don’t just want a Black woman they want it to be Kamala. If it’s another Black woman [Val Demmings, Stacey Abrams] will all of these K-Hive people stay home? I supported Elizabeth and support her now because she represents my hopes and values.”
Coral, artist and organizer: “I will say this, if Joe Biden picks any other white woman, over a Black woman, I would have a problem. I would not have a problem if Joe Biden picked Elizabeth Warren. Because I believe that Elizabeth Warren is actually sincere and has a track record of centering Black women’s issues.
So while most of the women seemed to believe that Warren wouldn’t spell doom for the Biden campaign, others were more specific about how Warren would actually be better for Black voters, and perhaps even turnout, than Harris.
Catherine, local elected official and activist: “Biden is going to do fine with older voters, but his challenge is going to be with 25-35-year-olds who aren’t excited about him. Who’s going to bring out that excitement? Not Kamala, but Elizabeth Warren can. You need someone who can excite the progressive base and if it’s not [Abrams, Demmings] then it needs to be Warren.”
Ruthy, campaign manager and organizer: “My politics tell me that I want Elizabeth Warren because she’s much closer to where Black folks want to go than Kamala’s politics. But the organizer in me, the person who knows about knocking door to door? There are some issues with criminal justice that are gonna make it hard to campaign for Harris. But at the end of the day either one works. Black folks have been voting for all white tickets since forever, why would this time be any different?”
So where does that leave us in the alternative history scenarios? If our collection of Black women experts is any indicator, Joe Biden picking Elizabeth Warren would not cast America into it’s darkest timeline. In fact, she may have some advantages over Harris when it comes to turnout and policy.
However, the Warren advantage if any would be slight, and loss of enthusiasm from Black female super voters is not something any campaign would want to risk.
Whoever he eventually picks will still only have one job — defeat Donald Trump — and if she’s committed to that she’ll have my vote regardless.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.
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