Jonathan Capehart, an African American columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote about an annual family reunion his family holds in Severn in northeastern North Carolina. This year, Capehart used the experience to take the pulse of black Democrats in the South. He found overwhelming support for Joe Biden, just like the polls show.
Capehart found support for all of the frontrunners. He wrote, “Biden, Buttigieg, Harris and Warren have my relatives’ attention. And I came away with the distinct impression that where Harris is with these black voters is where Obama was with African American voters about this time in 2007.” As he notes, black voters supported Hillary Clinton until Obama started winning and then they shifted to him very fast. The same could happen to Harris if she has a big moment in Iowa or New Hampshire.
They aren’t worried about Biden’s gaffes. As another commenter noted, they’re baked in. After eight years of Biden as vice-president, voters know what they’re getting and the misstatements are part of the package. They know they’re not malicious or a reflection of his abilities as political leader. They’re also more realistic about human nature than a lot of white progressives.
I noticed a trend among black voters during the Ralph Northam debacle. Photos on Northam’s page in a 35-year-old college yearbook showed a white person in blackface standing next to somebody dressed as a Klansman. People from across the political spectrum called for his resignation. However, African Americans stuck by Northam. They supported him and didn’t want him to resign. Similarly, they’re sticking with Biden despite his position on busing 40 years ago or his support for the crime bill 25 years ago.
I suspect that black Southerners have a different perspective than white activists because of their history. Too many young progressives try to apply the standards of today to a time gone by. Black voters, especially older ones who lived through Jim Crow and saw the changes brought by the Civil Rights Movement, know better. They understand that if people and attitudes had not changed, they would not have made the progress they’ve made over the past fifty years.
As the most Christian segment of the Democratic Party, they also believe in redemption. They welcome allies whose views have evolved. They don’t condemn them. They even supported George Wallace with 90% of their vote in his 1982 gubernatorial run after Wallace admitted he was wrong for his infamous opposition to civil rights.
Black Southerners also know the difference between real racism and bad judgment. While they’ve been victims of both, one is intended to hurt the community, while the other is not. The threat today is a revival of white supremacy that’s been largely dormant for the past fifty years. Trump’s rhetoric emboldens the racism of white nationalists and he openly defends them. In 2020, African American voters want most to defeat Trump and, right now, they see Biden as the best hope. Like 2007, that could still change.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >