Black voters were “a driving national force” behind Joe Biden’s defeat of President Donald Trump, according to the Associated Press. Black voters in Georgia—women and men—were essential to Biden’s historic victory in this deep South New South state and are now essential to giving President Biden a Senate that is willing to work with him to improve the well-being of Black Americans and their communities.
We must muster the resources and resolve to repeat this victory in the weeks between now and the Senate runoff races on Jan. 5. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell takes pride in abusing his power to turn the Senate into a graveyard for COVID relief and other legislation. If Republicans control the Senate, he will certainly devote himself to trying to destroy Joe Biden’s presidency the way he tried to do to Barack Obama. And he will make it far harder for Biden and Kamala Harris to deliver what the American people have voted for.
Black men can make the difference in Georgia’s Senate races—and many future races—if they can be mobilized to vote at rates much closer to what we consistently see with Black women.
In recent years, the essential contributions of Black women as organizers and voters have earned significant attention— from the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama in 2017 to Democratic congressional victories in 2018 to Black Lives Matter mobilizations for police reform, to Georgia’s own Stacey Abrams’ voter registration efforts, and of course to Biden’s recent victory. Once again, Black women were the gold standard for American voter participation.
The holy grail for us as a community must be getting Black men to vote at the same rate as Black women. Had that happened in 2018, Andrew Gillum would be Governor of Florida and Abrams would be Governor of Georgia. Had it happened in 2016, Trump would not have been President at all.
Most news coverage of the Black vote this year has focused on what is remarkable rather than what is meaningful. What is remarkable is that despite Trump being an unrepentant racist, slightly more Black men voted for him this time than in 2016. What is meaningful is that Black voting numbers, including for Black men, were up significantly overall, including here in Georgia, where more than 300,000 Black voters who didn’t vote in 2016 or 2018 showed up to the polls this year.
In fact, while Trump was able to pick up roughly 500,000 new Black male votes this year, Biden received 600,000 more Black votes than Hillary Clinton did four years ago. Increasing the turnout of Black men overall more than offset whatever inroads the Republican Party was able to make. Had Democrats not moved more Black men to the polls, we very well could have seen different outcomes in states like Georgia.
This rise in turnout, a deciding factor in setting a new direction for our country, was especially meaningful because it came in the face of ongoing voter suppression. Massive voter turnout is truly one of the best antidotes to massive voter suppression.
We should not ignore or dismiss Black men who voted for Trump. Democrats cannot take Black men for granted if they want to win in the South or anywhere else for that matter. NBC exit poll data suggests that Democrats have been losing support among Black men since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Democrats must work to earn the trust and votes of Black men just as they do with other voters.
All this points to two essential tasks facing the Democratic Party: boosting turnout by Black men in every election and doing so by prioritizing policies that speak directly to the concerns of Black men around educational and economic opportunity, health care, and systemic racism.
Turning Georgia blue was an accomplishment that was years in the making. It was built on countless hours that local leaders devoted to community organizing, voter registration, and voter education—and to challenging every variety of voter suppression that Republican officials could come up with.
This work was done with the vision that Black men must be part of the coalition to change Georgia for the better. We must make a consistent commitment to speak with, and listen to, Black men about what matters to them, and the importance of voting to bring positive change to our communities.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way, and the Rev. Timothy McDonald III is a longtime PFAW Foundation board member and the founder of African American Ministers In Action