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Black voters helped deliver Biden a presidential victory. Now what?

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When President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. thanked black voters his victory speech Saturday night for saving her campaign when it was at its lowest point and saying “you’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours,” Kourtney Neloms didn’t cheer like the hundreds in attendance.

Instead, listening to Mr. Biden speak in Wilmington, Del., Of her hometown of Detroit, she felt somewhat skeptical.

“OK, let’s see if he’s really being honest about it,” recalls Ms. Neloms, 42, who is black. “My prayer is that it is not just lip service.”

As black voters across the country celebrated the election of Mr. Biden and his vice-president, Senator Kamala Harris of California, many have said in recent days that the administration will have to prove its sincerity to tackle the the country’s vast inequalities and systemic barriers.

“I’m hopeful and ready to give Biden a chance, but I’m not completely sold,” said Geary Woolfolk, 53, who is black and lives in suburban Atlanta.

In this year’s election, Mr. Biden attracted around 87% of black votes. At the same time, Mr. Trump, despite being widely seen as inflaming racial hatred, won more black voters than in 2016, especially among black men, according to the polls leaving the polls.

In two dozen interviews, some African-American voters echoed a long-standing political concern they were underestimated, especially within the Democratic Party which they have firmly supported for decades. While Democrats still face high expectations of black communities, the pressure on Mr Biden, an initially moderate compromise, may be even greater due to the recent summer of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the racial makeup of its electoral coalition. and its own past.

In this year’s presidential bid, Mr. Biden’s political identity was largely shaped by his serving as vice president to Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president. He used that experience to gain black support, and it was black voters in South Carolina who saved his campaign during the Democratic primary.

He also addressed an issue that could have affected black support, acknowledging that parts of his signing legislation as a longtime Delaware senator, the 1994 Crime Bill, were wrong. Much of his campaign speech also focused on tackling racial disparities, with the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affecting black and Latin communities, and incidents of police violence leading to one of the biggest protest movements in the history of the country.

Mr Biden and Mrs Harris – the first black woman to win a presidential ticket – racked up huge margins on Mr Trump in Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Atlanta, cities with large populations or majority blacks that gave a significant boost to the president-elect. in hotly contested swing states.

Mr. Biden’s dramatic vow in his victory speech to return the favor to the black voters who so ardently supported him was an unusually explicit commitment to African Americans from a new president.

“This creates a situation where there is more pressure to provide for the black community,” said Isaiah Thomas, a Philadelphia city councilor who is black. “I don’t think we can recreate that moment here. So we need to get everything we can for the poor and people of color.

During the campaign, Mr. Biden released a broad political platform outlining his plan for black America. It included proposals to invest in black businesses and entrepreneurs, create homeownership opportunities, reduce racial disparities in education, and tackle a criminal justice system that stops, condemns and disproportionately imprison members of black communities.

As he began his transition this week, Mr Biden released a plan that included a section on racial equity. Activists from the Black Lives Movement coalition said on Tuesday they sent a letter to Biden asking him to play a role in the transition, but had not received a response.

Shortly after Mr Biden’s speech on Saturday, Mr Woolfolk, a centrist who described his vote not necessarily in favor of the new president but rather in opposition to Mr Trump, wrote an open letter to Mr Biden. He said the Democratic Party did not deserve its vote – nor its loyalty. “Politicians,” he wrote on Facebook, “my vote is up for auction – what will you do for me and my species now that the elections are over?

The father of three grown sons, Mr Woolfolk has said he wants police accountability without unblocking departments and better preparation for black students heading to college or trades school.

Jean Brooks Murphy was among the more than 60% of black voters in South Carolina who saved Mr. Biden’s primary campaign.

“Biden definitely owes us an administration that works on equality,” said Ms. Brooks Murphy, 74, a retired retail buyer living in Charleston. She says that access to health care is an important priority for her because she has many friends “who are afraid to go to the doctor or who don’t go because they don’t have the necessary. means of paying for treatment or drugs ”.

Part of the challenge for Mr. Biden will be to merge the broad and divergent views black Americans have on political goals, ideas, and strategies. Some see a radical overhaul of systems – from policing to housing – as the path to equality, while others prefer more moderate measures that can garner support from all political backgrounds.

While young black progressive activists defend slogans like “Defend the Police”, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, one of the most powerful black members of Congress, criticized the use of such expressions. He argued that they threatened to undermine support for racial justice movements and hurt Democrats in the election.

Banika Jones, 41, who works in catering for Detroit public schools, said she wanted to see reparations for blacks, a public option for health insurance, a living wage for workers and elimination of student debt.

I want to see real and real socialist reform, ”she said, highlighting the political ideology Republicans have used to demonize Democrats. “I said a bad word and I meant it. I want us to head to Denmark. “

Although she voted for Mr Biden, Ms Jones said she was not thrilled with him. Instead, she saw it as a continuation of the old Democrats, who seem more inclined to try to appease voters in the middle, rather than pushing for real change for African Americans and other marginalized groups.

Democrats always say they’re going to do something, ”she said. “They will improve health care. They will help us with education. They are going to do something about poverty. But they have thorns made from ramen or something. They absolutely do not want to stand up and fight. “

Jaymes Savage is far from disappointed. A 19-year-old sophomore at Rutgers-Camden University, he voted for the first time this year and is excited about what a Biden-Harris administration could mean for a black Philadelphia man like himself. He especially hopes that Ms Harris – whose father immigrated from Jamaica and mother immigrated from India – will be able to understand the continuing struggles in her community.

I’m a little cautious, “he said,” but then again I’m still hopeful because he specifically addressed us and he said we were a key part of his victory at the elections. I have a feeling that he will really try to help us more now.

It was not enough for black voters to wait for Mr. Biden to help their communities, some said. They needed to force the problem.

Jasmine M. Johnson, who spent a year helping to mobilize voters in Milwaukee, where the turnout was similar to 2016, said she was thrilled with Mr Biden’s victory – and hopes her Cabinet selections include black women, “who have delivered yet again.” After that, she said, the president’s black agenda should prioritize closing the wealth gap.

“This election cycle has been a refresher for some and a crash course for others in civics,” said Ms Johnson, 39. “We must collectively understand the impact of elections on our lives and collectively respond to our demand on this new administration – and then hold them accountable.”