As the votes slowly rolled in after November 3, much of the tentative optimism focused on the prospect of Donald Trump no longer being president of the United States. When major news outlets finally projected Joe Biden as winner of the 2020 election on Saturday, a release valve opened: people popped champagne bottles outside the White House and turned Trump’s tweets into the greatest self-own of all time. But another momentous event had also occurred: Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor turned senator, became vice president-elect of the United States. In a string of historic firsts, she’ll be the first woman to hold the office, along with also being the first Black American and South Asian American.
Because of her status as the most powerful woman of color in U.S. history, her ascent will surely come with heightened scrutiny. Trump called her a “monster” during the first presidential debate, and Georgia Senator David Perdue mockingly mispronounced her name at a Trump rally. I wrote about the misogynoir Harris would face during the campaign a few days after Biden announced her as his running mate, and it was clear then that how she would be covered would be a reflection of America’s attitude toward Black women. That hasn’t stopped Black women, however, from being the unwavering core of the Democratic Party, consistently voting in unmatched numbers and showing up even when they are not adequately represented.
Biden’s path to victory would have been impossible were it not for the Black women both within and outside his orbit. After Biden stumbled in the first debate, owing in no small part to Trump’s constant interruptions and bluster, Harris took the stage the following week and deftly outlined the Democrats’ vision for the American people. She called out Trump for refusing to condemn white supremacists, drawing pushback from Mike Pence, who also denied that systemic racism exists in law enforcement. And she stood firm when Pence tried to cut her off. “I am speaking,” she shot back, quashing the mansplaining on stage and going viral in the process.
On Saturday, she tweeted that she and Biden “are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people,” along with video of the big moment.
In Georgia, where Biden leads by a small margin, it was Stacey Abrams, a former state representative, who helped build a voting infrastructure that brought an estimated 800,000 residents to vote, thereby giving Democrats an opportunity to win the Southern state for the first time in nearly 30 years. In the two years since losing her run for governor to Brian Kemp, in a race seen as rife with voter suppression, Abrams made it her prerogative to champion voting rights and drive turnout. And Symone Sanders, who shifted from press secretary for Bernie Sanders‘s 2016 campaign to a senior adviser on Biden’s team, was integral in connecting the president-elect to young Democrats and progressives.
This is a victory for Harris, but it is also undeniable evidence of the role of Black women in grassroots organizing. As Jelani Cobb noted in his New Yorker profile of Abrams, Black women are “among the least likely to hold elected office,” yet they continue to be those most called upon when democracy needs a little help being democratic. The euphoria will linger for days, but once the dust settles, America may have to reckon with over 70 million people who chose to be led by a man who actively worked to stop all votes from being counted. And even while knowing that, Black women will continue to show up.