This Election, Black Women Are Leading the Way—AgainRoundup
tags: African American history, voting rights, political activism, womens history, black women
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of history at University of Pittsburgh and a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. She is the author of the multi-prize-winning book Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom. Twitter: @KeishaBlain
Black women are one of the most powerful voting blocs in the nation. Although they occupy a marginalized position in American society—shouldering multiple and intersecting forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, and classism—Black women have always used whatever was at their disposal to shape American politics. As the essential, if unsung, backbone of the Democratic Party, Black women have effectively harnessed the power of the vote to advance their political interest—while actively working to strengthen the party’s platform. Now, with voter suppression tactics on the rise, Black women are leading the charge to preserve the integrity of the electoral process.
The Democratic Party’s nomination of Kamala Harris for vice president has fueled many Black women’s passion for voting this year. Far beyond symbolism, Harris’s platform aligns with the concerns of many Black women. As a recent Essence poll of Black women voters reveals, most are concerned with addressing several interrelated societal issues: systemic racism, voter suppression, police violence, and poor access to health care. Black women’s overwhelming support for the Biden-Harris ticket—an estimated 90 percent—is therefore deeply connected to these critical issues. No doubt these women will make their way to the ballot box this year, many inspired by Harris’s nomination, to ensure that their voices are heard.
While Harris’s nomination is historic and meaningful, Black women’s overwhelming interest and commitment to casting a ballot is not a new feature in American politics. In 2008 and ’12, Black women voted at the highest rate of any race and gender subgroup. Their votes—96 percent of them—played no small part in the reelection of President Barack Obama in 2012. Black women voters backed the then-incumbent in some key battleground states—Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida—that together gave him 67 electoral college votes. While Black voters, in general, have had high turnouts in recent elections, Black women often lead at higher rates than Black men and other racial and ethnic groups in the country. This was especially evident in 2016, when the Black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years. While fewer Black voters as a whole made it to the polls that year, Black women still made their mark, with an estimated 63.7 percent voting that year. In comparison to other racial groups, Black women had one of that year’s largest voter turnout rates.
Long denied access to the vote, Black women in the United States need no convincing of the significance of electoral politics. The general consensus today among Black women that voting is necessary—not optional—stems from a long history of exclusion. Although some Black women were able to successfully cast a ballot during the early 20th century—in states such as California New York, and Illinois—most were shut out of the formal political process until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment, which granted voting rights to all women in theory but only white women in practice, had little effect on Black women’s lives. Through an array of legal and extralegal strategies, white Americans worked to keep Black people from practicing the constitutional right to vote.
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