Last weekend, Lucy Flores demonstrated extraordinary courage in speaking out about her uncomfortable experience with then–Vice President Joe Biden. And then, just days later, Joe Biden issued an unimpressive response. In a two-minute-long video, Biden did just what The Onion has made him famous for: trying to use charm to make a big problem seem small.
The truth is that this isn’t just about some inappropriate touching. (Indeed, if Biden was truly contrite in offering his informal video response, perhaps his team could have skipped the all-out media assault on Lucy Flores.) What Lucy Flores speaks to is a much larger issue.
Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill while serving as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that asked for her testimony is the first example of his tone-deafness towards women, and specifically women of color. His disrespect of Dr. Hill inflicted deep pain upon women of color at that time. From his refusal to allow testimony from witnesses who could have corroborated Hill’s story to his inability to control disrespect in the hearings, Biden was a key player in shaping how a generation of women approached the possibility (and severe discouragement) of coming forward on sexual harassment and assault. What’s more, his voting record against abortion rights has never fully been scrutinized.
We don’t need more explanations from Biden, we need an apology. More than that, we need a comprehensive plan for how he will address gender discrimination and racial inequality.
As Flores pointed out in her piece from this weekend, Biden “stopped treating me like a peer the moment he touched me. Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.”
As a woman of color, I know this story. I’ve lived that story, as have most women. We know what it means to be treated as less-than, as an object, as non-credible.
Polling might put Biden near the front of the Democratic pack, but with women of color making up a massive percentage of the early-vote electorate in key states, let’s not be too quick to judge how important it is for a candidate to address our real concerns to make it to the finish line. Women of color demand that the candidates lead on racial and gender justice to win our support.
Women of color made up 19.3 percent of self-reported 2016 Democratic primary voters. In the 2018 midterms, nearly 88 percent of women of color voted Democratic, compared to only 38 percent of white men.
So while Biden’s missteps might seem like a media blip to political elites, and his explanation video sufficient, changing voting demographics, and specifically women of color, could amplify this moment into something much bigger. That’s because women of color aren’t just paying attention to Lucy Flores, we are remembering Anita Hill. And we are now one of the most politically powerful constituencies in the Democratic base. This isn’t 1991 anymore.
We are also key deciders in several early states that will be critical in this crowded primary: According to data from She the People, in 2016 women of color were roughly one-third of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, and nearly one-fifth in Nevada. And in the Super Tuesday prizes of California and Texas, the 2016 Democratic electorate was roughly one-fourth women of color.
Here’s the reality: No Democrat will win the nomination, or the White House, without women-of-color voters in 2020.
Pundits and political insiders—the vast majority of whom in the media are white and male—underestimate women of color in this moment at their own peril.
Our country can not afford a national leader, let alone a president, who is slow to react to and address entrenched and outdated power structures that favor white men over everyone else. Women of color demand equal representation, and we are voting like our lives depend on it.
Biden might not be dead in the water—but his missteps should certainly be viewed as a cautionary tale to other contenders. Think big when it comes to courting women of color, because we could very well make or break your candidacy. That means apologizing and accounting for bad behavior, and ensuring those apologies come with plans to make things right.
The Nation · by Aimee Allison · April 10, 2019