Recognizing the political power of black women isn't enough. Invest in them.
It was unsettling to feel such a tremendous amount of relief Tuesday night after Alabama voters narrowly pushed Democrat Doug Jones into a U.S. Senate seat and defeated Roy Moore—a bigoted, non-law-abiding, twice-removed state Supreme Court justice accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and abuse when they were teenagers.
Then again, considering 2017 will go down as one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history, a time when Americans seemed frighteningly divided over whether decency and humanity are more important than one’s political party, this is a much bigger victory than a few percentage points.
Something we’ll hear a lot in the coming days as political analysts dissect the historic vote and its demographic breakdown is that African-American voters, particularly women, were the difference-makers in the election, and they’re right. A staggering 98 percent of black women who voted supported Jones. Not only should that be celebrated, but it should be both an exclamation point and a question mark for all Americans, regardless of political party.
The influence of black women on Alabama’s Senate election isn’t an anomaly or a fluke considering African-American voters, who’ve historically battled more voting restrictions and suppression than any other group of people in this country, have long been a force to be reckoned with. Black women had a higher turnout rate than any other race-gender subgroup in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Ninety-four percent of those who voted in the 2016 election supported Clinton, significant for many reasons, not the least of which include that she won the popular vote.
However, these statistics don’t necessarily work in favor of recognizing and tapping into the power of black women as a political force for any party. For one thing, there’s the tendency to disregard generational and ideological differences among black women, not to mention the perspectives and experiences that ultimately inform their votes. Just because 98 percent of black women voted for Jones doesn’t mean 98 percent of black women did it for the same reasons or that they prioritize the same values or policies over others. Same with Clinton. Same with Obama.
It presents dangerous potential for depending on black women as a mass influence to carry elections without actually investing in what their vote means and expects. “Black women have been attempting to save America since the dawn of time,” said Democratic strategist Symone D. Sanders in an interview with Newsweek. “That doesn’t mean we should allow the fate of America to be laid at the feet of black women—it has to be a multicultural effort.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the poetic justice of black women being the deciding factor in Tuesday’s election, particularly in places like Selma and Birmingham, historical mainstages in the South during the civil rights era.
However, it’s not enough to merely recognize the influence of black women in politics, especially when it involves shifting favor toward a white male candidate. Black women, long underrepresented in American politics, deserve a stable seat at the table. Supporting black women in America’s political dialogue demands more than a thank you. Americans should support black women by investing in their voices and empower them not only with encouragement but with the time, money and resources needed to run campaigns and political organizations and the opportunity to win elections at every level.
Black women deserve more than being political leverage or a mediocre candidate’s saving grace.
Alabama proved that. Now it’s time to do something about it.
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