Black women, a formidable voting block with one of the largest voter turnouts in the 2018 general election, are poised to take a seat at the table and set the agenda.
It’s just two weeks from Election Day, and for the first time in history, a Black and Indian American woman is on the ballot. And Black women, a formidable voting block with one of the largest voter turnouts in the 2018 general election, are poised to take a seat at the table and set the agenda.
Black women have a long history of political engagement. Still, this election is different.
“Black women are voting for the space to take a breath, and a break, and exhale. Our people literally need to breathe,” said Brittany Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage and Rutgers University associate professor of Africana Studies, during last week’s “Black Women Vote” virtual town hall, sponsored by the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality.
Carol Jenkins, CEO and co-president of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality, hosted the Oct. 12 virtual event that brought together some essential voices in Black women’s politics. They gathered to discuss this election and what the nomination of Kamala Harris means to Black women.
Moderator Erinn Haines, MSNBC correspondent and founding member and editor-at-large of The 19th, began the discussion with Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, and Glynda C. Carr, president, CEO and co-founder of Higher Heights for America, by asking about the state of play heading into the election’s home stretch.
Both spoke to the urgency felt by Black women voters this year, in the midst of dueling pandemics. Overrepresented as primary caregivers and essential frontline workers, COVID-19 has hit Black women hard—compounding their daily struggle with racism, police brutality and discrimination, but strengthening their already clear-eyed view of what they need from their elected officials.
“Seventy-five percent of Black women are motivated to vote,” Carr shared. Cooper said the power of the Black women’s vote is indicative of their refusal to believe, or accept, the privileged position that nothing ever changes. Their votes are a demand for progress that supports Black people.
“Black women are ready to govern.”
The discussion turned to Black women—not only as voters but as elected leaders and candidates. Black women want to see themselves in leadership, and their agenda pushed forward, said Allison:
“The history of being ignored and discounted and dehumanized, honestly by both parties, needs to come to an end, and we need a new era of economic and racial justice.”
Panelists agreed having Harris on the ticket means having a representative who champions Black women’s issues, ensuring they are represented at decision-making tables by someone who understands their experiences and looks like them.
Carr said the country is ready for Harris, sharing that a recent poll conducted by Higher Heights that showed “the American electorate believed [Biden] should choose a woman of color, and particularly a Black woman.”
Down-ballot elections were also up for discussion, described as vitally important. Currently, 61 Black women are running down-ballot, a significant increase from 2018, and confirmation for Allison’s claim, “Black women are ready to govern.”
Panelists collectively understood both race and gender as critical factors impacting Harris’s nomination. Teresa C. Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, said Harris’s nomination moved her and her friends, of multiple backgrounds, more than Hillary Clinton running for president.
“It was more because she totally looks like us,” said Younger. “We had followed her.”
She explained that Harris’s complexities and multiple identities mirror the lives of so many Black women.
“We don’t get to drop at the doorstep our identities in any way, shape or form. In fact, we carry all of that with us into this moment in time,” Younger said.
Panelists said Harris can shape our country’s political imagination by showing up in spaces and ways previously deemed off-limits to Black women.
Cooper celebrated the senator’s nomination, calling Harris’s candidacy a reflection of what is possible for Black women and heralding her as the “energetic future of progressive politics.” Her role is new, Cooper said; Black women are not typically positioned as strategizers, leaders or bold visionaries capable of leading this country into the future.
Beverly Smith, CEO of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., added Senator Harris’s presence in the political space shines a light on the many spaces occupied by Black women.
The event, hosted by the ERA Coalition, allowed Black women voters to take center stage and centered the necessary role of Black women in our democracy—driving home the point that Black women are consistent, confident voters. And they know it, explained Carr: 64 percent of Black women believe that Black women will be the demographic group to make a difference in the election.
The panel closed by celebrating the value of the Black women electorate, and with a reminder from Carr: “We have a greater capacity, to run, win and lead, and we see incremental gains, but at the end of the day Black women are still underrepresented and underserved in this country.”
And in Jenkins’s words, “Equality is on the ballot. We really cannot give our votes anymore to people who don’t support us.”
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