The outcome of the 2017 Special election in Alabama galvanized one of the most traditionally Republican states in our Union. Doug Jones, “the lead prosecutor against two of the four Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in September 1963” and a Democrat ran against Roy Moore, an accused pedophile, known racist, and religiously rambunctious republican. In the battle for the highly contested U.S. Senate seat, African-Americans made up 26% of the electorate and were assumed to be, by some political analyst, inactive in an election between two white, male candidates. But as recent elections, most notably the 2016 Presidential election, have shown African-Americans were not idle, had not slept through the process, were and have always been wide awake. (#staywoke? We do.)
In fact, the 30% of African-Americans who voted in the election exceeded the number of voters for the Barack Obama presidency. So what’s the correlation between Black voters and this Alabamian Special Election that transfixed the nation? The correlation is simple, clear-cut, and obvious. Those who carried Doug Jones across the finish line were not only Black voters, but leading in that charge were Black women voters. Despite widespread attempts to suppress the Black vote in southern states, Black men and women remained steadfast and committed to ensuring Alabama did not send Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate.
As results streamed into various news outlets, social media flooded with images of voting percentages and the catchphrase “Thank Black Women!” soon followed. But all I could think was, is thanking Black women enough?
Absolutely not. We don’t need to be thanked in a moment of triumph generated from a national moment of crisis; we deserve representation. Black women (and Black people) should not be the voting group liberal and progressive Americans continue to rely on to show up when ANY political party is on the verge of thwarting democracy as we know it.
“No taxation without representation.”
America has yet to appropriately deal with the generational effects slavery, Jim Crow, and other racially biased policies (for example, I’m thinking about The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) and how they have shaped the current social, economic, educational, and political experience of African-Americans. America also has yet to acknowledge that embedded in these policies are hardships Black women have had to face head-on.
For years, Black women have been the prime constituency of community organizations, bedrocks in social justice movements (the Women’s Suffrage movement had Black women, fyi.), formidable forces in the fight for equitable education, paramount in political campaigns, and essential to economic development initiatives. Our wombs have birthed a nation within a nation; our breasts have fed the greedy mouths of babies who would grow up and lock our kids and us out of spaces that would not exist had our lives not sustained the lives of its gatekeepers. (I mean that quite literally.)
So again, I have to question the concept of “no taxation without representation” and accept that it isn’t relegated to Black women. We are taxed four times over. We pay local tax, state tax, federal tax…and we pay the Black Tax. Black tax is an axiom that means black people have to work twice as hard as others racial and ethnic groups to get similar life (educational, financial, political, etc.) outcomes. Black Americans have been paying this Black tax in America for decades, and it has left us with very little. We continue to pay monetarily and emotionally into a system that does not (always) represent our vision or values despite our strong voting record. While we vote one way, other groups consistently and unapologetically vote another way is often compromising our efforts to actualize change.
During the 2016 presidential election taught political analysts two things: 1. Race played a huge part in Donald Trump becoming elected (I’ve never typed this before) President of the United States of America 2. Black women are not why Donald Trump was elected. An article in The Mic states, “the overwhelming majority of African-Americans did show their support by voting for Clinton, particularly as compared to white Americans, who ultimately won Trump the election by giving him 58% of the white vote.”
The outstanding question I have after watching the results of Alabama’s special election is simple: where is the representation for Black women voters? Whether we’re fighting to keep Trump, a man known for spewing vile comments on the internet about women, Black athletes, transgenders, and virtually anyone who does not carry his name, or fighting to keep the horse riding Roy Moore out of office, my question remains. Yes, thankfully, Doug Jones won a crucial election, but until policies are proposed to undo those enacted to hinder our ability to live well and safely in this country political participation is not enough. We must receive representation and thoughtful leadership from elected officials who court and win our vote.
And we can’t stop in politics either. Black women deserve to receive proper representation as board members, organizational and corporate leaders, inside classrooms…I could go on. As an educated, Black woman I am an active voter. My mother is an active voter. My grandmother was an active voter. Collectively, we embody three generations of Black economics, Black social engagement, Black political engagement, and three generations of Black womanhood. In the city I live in, I have seen local elections hang on Black women aggressively supporting particular candidates or allowing their circumstances (the death of their children, their student’s “low performing school,” etc.) to be the face of local campaigns. But to what end? I have seen very little political progress made for Black women by those who so vehemently request our vote and participation. In fact, I see groups undermining the voice of Black constituents after they’ve received our support.
In light of this election, I‘m interested in the voting trends of Black women in local elections. Why? Because we can no longer allow the political landscape to paint a portrait that leaves Black women voters in the shadows. We need legislation that addresses the wealth gap, mass incarceration rates, and the glass ceiling Black women experience. We must also actively recruit and retain political leaders, locally and nationally, who will convey the unadulterated message of Black women voters. Until then, Black women are tired of paying Black taxation without representation.