We’ve failed Cory Booker

Athena Gilbraith is a Black woman and mother of four in eastern Iowa. She works in early education and previously volunteered as a precinct captain for the Kamala Harris campaign. -promoted by Laura Belin


Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey, presidential candidate, and a Black man with local family roots, should easily be polling in first place. Iowans are no fools and we usually don’t get it wrong, but I’m afraid we will this time. Much of the punditry that questions Iowa’s first in the nation status will have a stronger case, and the state will have less of an argument. The 2020 caucus is riding on our choice and we are about to choose wrong. 

It’s not difficult to see exactly why Cory Booker isn’t doing better in the polling. It’s just difficult for Iowans to admit — It’s race. It is race, it is race, it is absolutely race. 

The first thing that will come to mind is 2008, however. Since Iowa Democratic caucus-goers launched Barack Obama toward the nomination, and Iowans elected a Black man in November, the question of race seems more like an accusation rather than a fact.

Is it possible to measure racism? Even with Iowa’s 91 percent white population, it seemed as if the state had learnt that racial composition was irrelevant. Even people of color in Iowa believed in the feedback of an Obama presidency. A closer look will show that not much has shifted locally. ”So goes Iowa, so goes the nation.”

Now it’s time for 2020, and we must speak the truth: Racial composition is absolutely relevant. Obama voters–both regional and national–are scared out of their minds and have abandoned their principles. The hope and change they bought into eleven years ago promised a country that looks nothing like America today.

Back then, we convinced each other that it was “time” to elect a Black president. He deserved it, right? Technically, so did the world. We had ”evolved.” The gift of an Obama presidency benefited everyone. And with those benefits, people were finally able to convince themselves and regrettably, the country, that they were no longer racist. 

Unfortunately, we have learned nothing. The country was never rid of its racism, especially that of the Obama voters. This is evident in the election of Donald Trump.

But the root of the nation’s racism problem does not rest completely on our current president’s shoulders. We failed as a nation and continue to fail to be present with racism. And for eight years, we hid under the guise of a Black presidency when we should have confronted the demons that tugged at our souls when we saw a man wearing a Keffiyeh, or a Black family in a park. We fooled ourselves. And at the end of the Obama presidency, we told each other that we had cured our implicit biases. What the country forgot to do was actually check in with people of color, just to make sure. 

We seem to have a hard time understanding that it wasn’t Obama-turned-Trump supporters who put Trump at the Resolute Desk. It was the abandonment of Black voters, the loss of our guy, and the letdown we feel when we realize certain people were racists all along. We also believed that white people were cured. But then campaign season came along, and you left us out to dry. We saw you, we saw what you gave us for 2016, and we said, “nah.”

To have evolved is to have come full circle within the realms of understanding what racism is. Our country did not become non-racist with the election of Barack Obama. Our country became complacent. And for Black voters, jumping from Hope and Change to a Clinton three-peat was a leap not worth taking. We weren’t being spoken to anymore, so we stopped speaking altogether. Once again, we were able to see that our voices, and our lives, did not matter. 

The 2020 election for liberal Democrats should be a no-brainer at this point. But now, the party is operating in full panic mode. Deep down, Cory Booker is the most obvious, best choice for the country. But we’ve allowed fear to rule our emotions. His outspokenness about the racism that exerts control over white people and the party should’ve been the wake up call to put forth the candidates our country presently requires. What we need right now is a President Booker. A man who has spent his entire adult life as a public servant, listening, working for, and demanding a better democracy.

But it might be too late. The party jumped the gun and got scared. And in good old white privileged fashion, Democrats capitalized. They threw white guys as far as the eye can see into the 2020 race and invited others to join in on what reflects as a Mr. America pageant. Why? Because racism has taught us that any old white guy is always better than the Black guy when it comes to anything. And more is better than none. 

We are as fearful a country as ever. Fearful of the illusion of control. We are not the same United States that stood up and fought for the freedom of slaves. We are barely the United States that marched side by side on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And we are not the same country who very clear eyed, picked a Black man from Chicago over a White war hero to be our commander in chief.

So here we are, collectively un-brave as one party, leaving the best guy behind because the white kids once again have to be the stars. It doesn’t matter if they’re not what’s really best, it doesn’t matter if our party starts leaning more towards socialism, racism beats on the white hearts of nearly every white democrat in the party. Only when party and the nation take full responsibility for that racism will we see how much we need Cory Booker.

Top photo of Senator Cory Booker with Athena Gilbraith and her daughter Paris provided by the author and published with permission.


Editor’s note: Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts related to the Iowa caucuses, including but not limited to candidate endorsements. Please read these guidelines and contact Laura Belin if you are interested in writing.

About the Author(s)

Athena Gilbraith

  • Playing the race card, eh?

    Personally this white guy had a negative impression of Booker from his time as a charter school advocate, his time voting against a plan to cut prescription drug prices by allowing re-importation from Canada, and from his reputation as being cozy with Wall Street. So there’s that.

    But now I see Booker at 2% or 3% in a couple of polls. I think he’d be a bit higher if non-whites supported him. So there’s that, too.

    I agree there’s no excusing that other Wall Street puppet Buttigieg,”s edge over Booker except that he is white, but that is not the whole story of this race. Booker is unknown compared to Bernie, Warren, and Biden. He’s like Amy, or like Gillibrand, or Bennett: all seemingly-qualified white Senators who can’t get traction so far.