© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Black Women Worry the Biden Campaign Isn’t Listening

Operatives and party members warned that the Biden campaign is moving too slowly to empower Black women.

Joe Biden Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris is aware that Black women are concerned about the Biden campaign’s lack of representation, sources said. Susan Walsh/AP

Prominent Black women in Democratic politics fear they’re getting too few seats at the table on the Biden campaign — even after warning top campaign officials for months that the president may lose the election if he doesn’t do better.

The Biden campaign has followed through on its promise to hire Black women in senior roles. But there are fewer Black women in those roles — and they have less power — than many had hoped there would be at this point in the election, particularly given the importance of Black women to President Joe Biden’s reelection bid.

More than a dozen Democratic operatives and Biden allies told NOTUS that the issue of Black representation is bigger than any singular job title — it’s a reflection of a Democratic ecosystem that’s slow to make changes or empower people who aren’t as well known in D.C. political circles.

“It’s really unfortunate that the party continues to malign the contributions of Black women staffers,” said one former Democratic staffer. “I recall having ideas being undercut, leadership refusing to elevate us into positions with spending and decision-making authority to actually do the job successfully.”

“If you’re not an insider, you know, you may not be validated or recognized in that way,” the former staffer continued.

One Democratic operative said it feels like Black women are held to a higher standard in the party and are seldom given a chance in roles that aren’t directly related to their identity.

“I feel like the Bidenworld only thinks of us as doing work for Black people,” the operative said. “I think the overall Democratic problem is where you see a Black person, and you automatically only want them to do Black strategy for Black voters and not for all voters.”

Many of these complaints have reached the highest levels of the campaign, up to campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon, campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez and principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks, sources told NOTUS. Even Vice President Kamala Harris is aware that Black women are concerned about the lack of representation at the senior levels of the campaign, according to two sources familiar with her office.

The Biden campaign pushed back against the characterizations that Black women aren’t well represented or influential on the campaign.

“Ensuring Black women have a seat at the table for this campaign is a priority, which is why we have hired Black women to lead vital cohorts at both the national and state level,” said Jasmine Harris, the Black media director, in a statement. “We are proud of these hiring announcements and appreciative of the impact and influence these women will have on our campaign strategy, alongside a campaign that is being built to reflect the diversity of the Biden-Harris coalition.”

The campaign has hired at least 10 people since the beginning of the year after meeting with prominent Black politicians, activists and influencers and getting an “earful” about staffing and messaging concerns. Three of those new senior hires on a national level are Black women: the senior rapid response spokesperson, the director of voter protection and the Black media director.

The campaign has also hired a number of Black women for senior roles in key battleground states, including as senior advisers in Georgia and North Carolina and a campaign manager in Nevada. Those roles control significant budgets. Additionally, Minyon Moore, a veteran political operative, leads the party as the Democratic National Convention chair.

“Black women aren’t just the backbone of the Democratic base — we’re the North Star for Democratic Party leadership,” Moore said in a statement, defending the campaign and the Democratic Party. “This is the first time in history that three Black women are leading the planning efforts for a national political convention.”

Still, the pace of change has been “disheartening,” said Karen Weaver, a former mayor of Flint, Michigan, who participated in a January meeting with the campaign.

“I’ve been watching, looking and listening,” Weaver told NOTUS. “I haven’t seen the request that we put in place acted upon, and that’s very troubling to me.”

“I think they’re making progress in the broadest possible sense. But I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I was disappointed,” said another Black Democratic operative who has repeatedly met with the Biden campaign.


Multiple people with knowledge of the situation say Black women have been offered roles but turned them down for various reasons, some because they viewed them as lateral jobs or even demotions. In other situations, qualified Black women were considered for more senior jobs and then offered lower positions or no job at all, according to people with knowledge of staffing practices.

Some roles remain empty, including the DEI director position that provided a voice to staffers and outside supporters of color during Biden’s 2020 campaign. That role came up during a late February meeting with Harris’ campaign staff and about 60 members of the “K Hive,” her most fervent fans. Sources said it didn’t go unnoticed at the meeting that the Black women staffers present were from the DNC, not the Biden campaign itself.

“You shouldn’t have to pull Black folks from the DNC side to come to a meeting,” one influencer who attended the meeting told NOTUS afterward. “Do we have a seat at the table on the campaign, and not just around the room? … We can influence what happens at the table, but we still need to be at the table.”

The campaign said it was still hiring, and staff gave out contact information for attendees to pass along to interested operatives. But the clock is ticking for the campaign to fulfill its promise to bring in more Black women in meaningful ways.

“We are gonna get back on their case about that,” said Rev. Krista Alston, who co-organized a separate virtual meeting between Black women and the campaign in January.

The plan now is to follow up with the campaign to assess the status of hiring and other major concerns like messaging and the use of Black women surrogates.

Some women who spoke with NOTUS said the staffing delay is expected and that not all Black women operatives and elected officials feel this is a five-alarm problem. These women say the campaign has signaled that to save money for the general, Biden officials want to operate at a more skeletal level. And, they say, they know this is a recurring issue with Black women in politics.

“It’s an every cycle battle about the senior staff, how money is being spent on Black media. It’s just, you know, it’s a systemic problem,” said a Black woman political veteran. “It’s not the Biden campaign. It’s the way that campaigns are run.”


The concerns about staffing aren’t simply about who gets jobs. It’s about who gets to influence how Biden’s campaign appeals to voters — and whether the campaign is set up to do so with a crucial portion of the electorate.

“There needs to be a more diverse representation in the campaign,” a source familiar with the Biden campaign told NOTUS.

The current messaging isn’t resonating with Black voters, said Rikki Jones, president of the Cook County Democratic Women and a co-organizer of one of the meetings between Black women and the campaign.

“I still have a concern about messaging,” she said. “And the main reason I have a concern about messaging is because I want us to win.”

The latest February Quinnipiac poll showed Biden leading Trump among Black voters 79% to 19%, a major slip from the 87% Biden managed to net in 2020, according to exit polls. Black women in the 2020 election made up 8% of the electorate, according to exit polls, and 90% of them supported Biden.

Some fault the president’s lack of a resonating message for Black America to this drop, while others fault the persistent nature of Republican misinformation targeted at the Black community.

All the women NOTUS spoke with credit Biden for enacting transformative policies for their communities. Many said they had seen progress on other requests they’ve made of the campaign. For example, in the January meeting, an attendee suggested the campaign create wallet-sized scorecards with Biden legislative wins that could be handed out around neighborhoods. At a pre-primary rally over the weekend in Atlanta to celebrate the endorsement from Collective PAC, a group focused on growing Black political power, AAPI Victory Fund and the Latino Victory Fund, staffers handed out one-pagers of achievements to attendees that could help them spread the campaign’s message.

“Over the last three months, I feel like things have at least started to move in the right direction,” said Austin Davis, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor and a Biden surrogate. Davis has pushed the campaign to engage with Black men more and use more surrogates who appeal to the potentially slipping bloc of voters. And he says now, it seems, they’re listening.

“Is it perfect? I’m sure nobody would say that, but I have seen progress,” he told NOTUS in an interview.

There has also been a concerted effort to engage with Black media figures. The White House focused on influencers during the State of the Union media tour, with many coming to the White House. Harris, the Black media director, coordinated a Black news outlet roundtable with the campaign in Wilmington, Delaware, to bring the campaign’s message to news organizations that matter in Black communities.

There have still been missteps — the White House slow-walked and has not approved interview requests from popular TV and radio host Steve Harvey and often-viral professional football player turned media personality Shannon Sharpe, according to a source familiar with the asks.

Still, it’s small wins that keep the women encouraged.

“What I do feel is that we are dealing with people that will listen to us. I do believe that,” Jones said. “So I feel it’s my job, Rev. Alston’s job and all these other people’s jobs, to make them listen to us. And make them hear.”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS.