Twelve years ago on a chilly night on November 4, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
It was a historic victory, and for millions of African Americans, the country’s first Black president was a symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history. The descendant of slaves had made it to the highest office in the land. Finally, change had come.
At Grant Park in his home city of Chicago, the President-elect gave his victory speech – an emphatic message of unity, change and hope – in front of hundreds of thousands of jubilant supporters.
Those scenes of sheer joy were repeated more than a decade later when Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate and the former vice president, was chosen to lead the country. But some say the celebrations that erupted on streets around the country were due to relief at the ousting of President Trump – who repeatedly stoked the flames of racial hatred and refused to condemn violence wreaked by white supremacists – than joy at Biden’s win.
The former vice president owed his victory, in large part, to support from African Americans.
Black voters overwhelmingly backed him in major cities, helping propel him to victory in crucial swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Activist and politician Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, played a pivotal role in flipping the state of Georgia from red to blue.
In other key cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, Black voters were a critical factor in Biden’s success. Exit polls revealed that 87% of Black voters backed Biden compared to just 12% for President Donald Trump.
He inherits a nation strained by racial tensions and unrest. Earlier in the year, protests, sometimes violent, erupted across the country following the death of a Black man, George Floyd, under the knee of a white police officer.
Biden’s extensive plans for Black America, as encapsulated in Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America, includes improving economic mobility of African Americans, expanding access to high-quality education and investing in ending health disparities by race. The document includes specific plans and goals his administration plans to take to uplift disparities within the Black community.
Biden acknowledges that “African Americans can never have a fair shot at the American Dream so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity” and pledges to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, our institutions, and our hearts”.
“Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me,” Biden said in his victory speech in Delaware. “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
And he could be well on his way to fulfilling that promise. Much like Obama’s win in 2008, Biden’s 2020 victory was unprecedented. His running mate, Kamala Harris made history with her election as Biden’s vice president, becoming the first woman, first Black American and first Asian American to win the second highest office in the country.
Many saw Biden’s choice of Harris as “cementing his relationship with the Black community.” He was already fairly popular, or at least familiar to African Americans, having served Obama as vice president for eight years.
If the 77-year-old president-elect only serves one term, as has been touted in some quarters, there is a chance that in 2024 Harris could become the first Black female president.
Biden’s promise to cater to the needs of the Black community restores some hope in a world-weary, historically-oppressed demographic eager for some real change and not just a return to a pre-Trump America and the status quo ante.
He has at least four years to make good on that promise.