Since the historic upset in Alabama’s special election for Senate this week, the internet has been ablaze with people who suddenly realized that black female voters wield enormous political power and were (once again) the driving force for the Democratic Party. In fact, since the news that 98 percent of Alabama's black female voters chose former prosecutor and long-shot candidate Doug Jones over former judge Roy Moore —granting him a win by a scant 20,000 votes — there have been a deluge of tweets and posts thanking black women for saving America. But as more than one observer pointed out online following the election, offering a performative “thanks” on social media does nothing to actually support women of color after the Alabama election. Instead — with black women more likely to be on the receiving end of poor policies around healthcare, education, and the economy — we need to be looking at ways to elevate perspectives from women of color in public policy. If you’re inspired by what happened in Alabama this week, support black women in the electoral process.
Doug Jones’ victory is a huge win on multiple levels. It’s the first time that Alabama voters have elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than 25 years, and Jones — who had never run for political office before this race — pulled off the victory in “ruby red” Alabama despite his rival’s endorsement from the Republican National Committee and the President of the United States, according to NBC News.
But, according to CNN polling data, Alabama voters weren’t all equally responsible for Jones’ win. In fact, in a state where black women make up less than one-third of the electorate (according to a separate CNN report), a historic engagement and turnout of black voters — especially women — literally put Jones over the finish line.
Understanding what’s at stake in the Senate (members have promised to cut Medicare and other safety net programs as payment for the massive costs associated with the GOP tax plan), it makes sense that so many people would be ready to thank black women for saving decency, democracy, and the core of the American ideal. But an overcorrective, empty applause on social media isn’t where this conversation should end. As activist Charlene Carruthers said on Twitter recently, “Black women are not political mules to be used every time a mediocre candidate needs to win. No amount of verbal appreciation will do us justice. Turn over the money, power, and resources, and then we’ll talk.”
What does that look like? Glad you asked. Right now there are dozens of political organizations run by black women that need support, either in monetary donations or member support. Groups like the Advancement Project, Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero, Black Girls Vote, and Me Too are tackling issues ranging across the political field, including voter suppression, sexual assault, immigration, and human rights. All of them are worth your time and attention.
And if you want to give directly to black women running for office in 2018, another social media activist (blogger, and bestselling author) Luvvie Ajaye has put together a database powered by Higher Heights for America. Their #BlackWomenWhoLead Campaign is a training camp of leaders willing to step up, influence elections, and move policies in a way that helps all of us.
As a black woman who lives and votes in Alabama, I have to say that the attention this week has been nice, but it's not enough to make real change. Black women aren’t superheroes, and these votes certainly shouldn't be taken as evidence of some grand ambition to save the world from its bad decisions. This is about survival — for ourselves, our families, and especially the black daughters and sons that we bring into this world. Performative praise won’t save their lives. But there’s a chance that sound decisions — sound policymaking — just might.
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