Kamala Harris: I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman, all of five feet tall, who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California. On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now, and speaking these words. I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America.
Brigid Bergin: Last night, Kamala Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman to accept the nomination for Vice President for a major political party. Black women have been an essential part of the Democratic Party for more than half a century. A recent Pew study found that 87% of Black women identified as Democrats, making them one of the most party loyal demographics in the country, yet they've often been sidelined, forced to fight for a seat at the table and lift off the pages of history. Some more numbers to consider only 47 Black women have ever served in Congress, and Kamala Harris is only the second Black woman to be a senator.
Black women have helped shape the ideology of the party and have played a central role in the lead up to the 2020 election when a record-breaking 122 Black women filed to run for congressional seats. I'm Brigid Bergin in for Tanzina Vega, marking this historic moment and reflecting on the critical but often overlooked work of Black women in the Democratic Party. That's where we start today on The Takeaway. Joining me now is Ko Bragg, a reporter for the 19th, a nonprofit newsroom with a focus on gender policy and politics. Thank you for joining us, Ko.
Ko Bragg: Thank you for having me.
Brigid: Also, with us is Kat Stafford and Associated Press reporter on race and ethnicity. Hi, Kat.
Kat: Hi, how are you doing, Brigid?
Brigid: I'm great. Kat, I want to start with big picture. Black women are one of the most consistent voting demographics in the country, and this holds true across this diverse population. What drives the turnout?
Kat: Black women, when they hit to the polls when they assure their families, their friends, they know that they are not just voting for a simple reason. Many of these women believe they're voting for life or death for their communities. When you look at the legacy of Black women, Black people in this nation, this nation has a long history of racism, we are still dealing with the effects of slavery, and systemic racism still permeates through the fabric of this nation. When Black women head to the polls, they head to the polls with that on their shoulders with that on their mind. When you have Kamala Harris reaching this new level for Black women within politics is quite an emotional moment for many of them.
Brigid: Kat, despite being faithful Democratic voters, how has the Democratic Party sidelined Black women.
Kat: So historically. Black women have been the ones who have organized, I believe, Kamala Harris stated this in her acceptance speech, she noted the legacy of Black women, those who came before her. She noticed that Black women have rally, they have marched, they have fought for many of these movements that have led us to this point today, where that was the civil rights movement or the fight for women to get the right to vote, which we know did not come into fruition for Black women until many, many years later.
When you talk about the legacy of Black women, they are the ones who have been the backbone of these struggles in America. That, in turn, though, has forced them to be on the sidelines because of racism, because of sexism, which in many cases, only women of color face that double-edged sword.
Brigid: Ko, Senator Harris, is now one of the few examples of a Black woman in politics who actually has a seat at the highest table. What's the significance of this moment in terms of the leadership opportunity, but also the burden?
Ko: Yes, so I think that Senator Harris got to this in her speech last night and talking about the multifaceted pneus of this moment. She's really specific about where she fits into the legacy of this nation by sharing a lot of parts of what made her. She talked about Howard University, she talked about being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, and all of these things made who she was since she was born at that hospital in Oakland. I think this is the first time for a lot of people that she was very specific in talking about who her family was, who she thought to be the people that have gotten her to this moment, whether they are alive to see her or not.
I think this is happening in the moment of Democratic National Convention that they keep referring to as an unconventional convention because of this moment that we're facing this pandemic. She was one of the only people to mention that the 19th Amendment, the centennial of which we're celebrating this week, did not successfully achieve access to the ballot for all.
I think it is definitely a landmark and it is something that my newsroom is named after but with an asterisk, to denote the fact that not all people, not all women got the right to vote following this amendment to the Constitution and I think that's really important. I think she knows that in this moment, as both Senator Harris and Michelle Obama have stated in their speeches that they love their country, but I think when you hear the only Black woman in US senate and if she is elected to the White House, will leave that senate without a Black woman there, she talks about opening doors being the first of many, but without someone else to take up that baton.
I think that when she, especially Black women, say that they are fighting for equality and access in this country out of a love, that is also carrying a lot of what Kat was saying the trauma and the legacy of what it means to fight for the ballot. I think she did an excellent job of mentioning a lot of Black women who I hope people will learn about Mary Church Terrell, Mary McCleod Bethune, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer.
Brigid: I'm glad you mentioned that, Ko, because I want to spend a moment talking about some of those women that Senator Harris mentioned last night. Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist. Lots of our listeners will know her work well, but for those who don't, can you talk about her impact and influence on the Democratic party?
Ko: Absolutely. I have roots in Mississippi and Fannie Lou Hamer is iconic in many ways. She was a farmer, she was a sharecropper and she fought to push the party to where it needed to go, to push the party to see women like her who had built this nation and yet could not be elected, this party did not make room and she founded the Freedom Democratic Party to really push the party where she wanted to see it go.
I think that that's really important to lift her name up in this moment. When Fannie Lou Hamer was fighting for food access for farmers in the Mississippi Delta, the irony is Bernie that like to be a farmer, to be a sharecropper, to be the descendant of the enslaved, and yet be hungry and we're now in this moment where many people are facing hunger in this pandemic, and racism and just many dueling factors that make life really hard.
I think to lift her name up is really important and also a nod to the work that Senator Harris and Joe Biden will have to do to honor the fact that there are a lot of people who want to see the Democratic Party, incorporate people further on the left, and incorporate those values and push them further. The reality is, there's a lot of criticism because of their records with the crime bill, and Senator Harris coming from a law enforcement background. We're in the moment where we're still facing, the ramifications of the uprisings we saw this summer, and people want to see more.
Brigid: Kat, let's talk a moment about Shirley Chisholm, famously unbought and unbossed. She was the first Black woman elected to the House and then ran for president in 1972. What effect did just seeing a Black woman run for president at that time have on future generations, including someone like Senator Harris?
Kat: I'm glad you brought Shirley Chisholm because I just had a story where I actually spoke with [unintelligible 00:08:35], who's this longtime activist, 88 years old, and she walked me through that moment of when she saw Shirley Chisholm get on that stage in 1972, in Miami and for her and for many Black women, it was more than just the historical moment. It was a moment of hope, a moment that they knew would open more doors, a moment that they knew that eventually would potentially lead to the opportunity for someone to come through like Kamla Harris and that's really the legacy of Chisholm.
That's the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer. That's the legacy of all of these black women who have come before Kamala Harris. I just thought it was poignant last night when she said that as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders and that's true because once again, Black women have been at the forefront of these fights for long. It is just now that people have fully begun to realize their power and the strength that they bring with them to this table.
Brigid: Kat, the pandemic overshadows everything about this election in this convention and Senator Harris spoke to that last night, connecting it to the work we need to do to fight racism.
Kamala: This virus, it has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. Let's be clear, there is no vaccine for racism. We've got to do the work.
Kat: Yes. Look, we know through my reporting through the reporting of so many others, that this pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black Americans and other people of color. They have been hit hard really by what I've been noting as three crises going on at the same time, which is the health implications of people dying, which is the economic fallout from the pandemic people losing their jobs, unable to put food on the table for their families.
Then you couple that with this moment that we're in with this reckoning around racism in this country. You can't talk about any of this without noting that racism is at the center of this election, racism is at the center of this country. I think what Senator Harris did last night was really make sure that we brought that to the forefront and recognize that in order for this nation to move forward, it's going to have to grapple with this long history of racism in this country. There's no other way forward.
Brigid: If the Harris Biden ticket is successful in November as you mentioned, there will be no more Black women in the Senate. For both of you, why do we need more Black women leaders and how would this country be different if that were a reality?
Ko: I think that the reality is that representation does matter and regardless of how you feel about the representation, Black women deserve to be at every level represented for the work that they do and that is very obvious and the Democratic party. I think that if Senator Harris makes it to the white house, that her absence will be felt. I think she brings her prosecutorial background whenever we see her at a hearing and we will lose that. It is a shame that in this historic moment where we are celebrating such a game that we have to always be thinking about what we're losing, there's always a sacrifice. I think that will be underscored no matter what happens.
Kat: For me, I feel this is an important point. I spoke with Dr. Johnnetta Cole, who, of course, was the first Black woman president of the historical HBCU, Bennett. Something that she said really stuck with me. She said, "If you see one, you can be one." I'm seeing that because for every little Black girl in his country, for really every little girl in this country, when they see someone like Senator Harris, when they see someone like Stacey Abrams, it just lets them know that they too can do that.
Everything that Cole just said I agree with her because while this is a moment of celebration, we can't fully declare that it's a victory because America has yet to see its first Black woman governor in his 2020. Think about that and let that sink in. We still have so much more work to do.
Brigid: Ko Bragg is a reporter for the 19th and Kat Stafford is an associated press reporter on race and ethnicity. Thank you both so much for being here.
Kat: Thank you.
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