What Black women’s political wish list should be for 2021
OPINION: Black women should take the lessons learned from 2020 to develop an agenda of action items to animate political activities in the new year.
As we near the end of 2020, Black women political elites and citizens alike deserve more than a round of applause. This was an extremely tough year that was characterized by several ups and downs.
From celebrating the historic win of Kamala Harris as the first Black and South Asian vice-president elect to the senseless murder of Breonna Taylor and the injustice that her family received at the hands of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic negatively and disproportionately impacted Black women while the calls for racial justice provided new opportunities for some Black women-owned businesses. This year of extreme contradictions saw Black women rally to weather this storm, doing what Black women do — hunker down to survive and often thrive in an environment that was created for their destruction.
Rather than lean into the myth of the Black Superwoman, Black women in politics walk this fine line of balancing structures that marginalize them and drawing on their own agency to positively change their circumstances.
2021 will not be different.
What political action items do Black women want and deserve in 2021? Below, I provide a list of possible and discrete items that may be enacted to help Black women survive and thrive in next year’s American political arena.
Policies that benefit Black women
Black women deserve an accountable system that prioritizes their safety. This means defunding the police and investing in structures that aid Black communities. Several Black women activists have called for abolishing the police altogether because they believe that reform is unlikely. The 2020 list of Black lives that were lost at the hands of police and state-sanctioned violence remains alarmingly high and there is no end in sight. Black women, in particular, face significant challenges when they bring life into this world knowing that there is a great likelihood that their child will end up another name attached to a Black Lives Matter hashtag.
Next, Black women and their families need a safe and healthy environment. Passing the Green New Deal would be one step in eradicating environmental racism. Black women have long championed environmental politics, although often unrecognized as such, to conclude that environmental justice is a Black political issue.
Black women must have economic mobility and financial stability. In policy terms, this would entail increasing the minimum wage. Congress passed this bill in the 116th session but it died in the Senate. While there are drawbacks and advantages to gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 it is apparent that this would help economically marginalized people, including Black women.
And lastly, Black women and their families have a right to access medical care. A policy such as Medicare For All would be a boon. This policy would significantly help Black women who often face racialized and gendered disparities in our current healthcare system.
Black women political elites deserve to be treated with respect.
All too often Black women political elites are denied the same level of deference of other duly elected officials. For instance, Kamala Harris was personally attacked by Republicans using racist and sexist characterizations. Misogynoir, hatred of Black women will most likely continue to be seen as Black women flex their political muscle.
Black women came out to denounce racist and sexist attacks on their fellow political leaders such as Stacey Abrams, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice who were uniformly critiqued using stereotypes of this group in 2020. These women’s credentials and political accolades do not stop them from being called a ho, a monkey or having their bodies scrutinized and characterized as grotesque.
Black women who have expressed political ambition have drawn racist and sexist ire for not remaining in their “proper place.” These stereotypes of Black women political elites make it difficult for them to recognize themselves and for others to see them as viable political candidates or leaders. It also sends a signal to Black women with nascent political ambition that if they decide to seek an elected office that they, too, will face these negative attacks.
Some Black women and girls will be turned off and thusly, decide not to run for office. We then are losing a generation of future leaders who may forgo formal politics because they do not want to endure this kind of treatment. In the end, we all lose. Deliberative bodies are enhanced by diversity and the new voices and ideas that are brought to the table when Black women lead.
Lastly, give Black women their flowers now.
This means that we should honor the sacrifices and celebrate the victories of Black women in politics today. Black women’s contributions to politics are often erased from public memory, such as the efforts of Black women suffragists who helped to ensure the passage of the 19th amendment although they were barred from the franchise because of Jim Crow.
Unless we correct history’s wrongs now, we are setting ourselves up to repeat this erasure by failing to call the names of Black women political operatives who delivered key victories in 2020. Recognizing Abrams for her voice in leading Fair Fight, or Latosha Brown in Black Voters Matter, or Glynda Carr at Higher Heights, Stephanie Brown James of the Collective PAC, Melanie L. Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, or Melina Abdullah the co-founder of Black Lives Matter chapter in Los Angeles, Jotaka Eaddy of Full Circle Strategies, or Ashanti Gholar of Emerge these women – among many others – have created an infrastructure to support and cultivate Black women’s political activism.
The visionary leadership of Black women in American politics should be extended beyond those who run for office and those that vote. Those that lead grassroots organizations, political action committees, or civic organizations provide the necessary scaffolding to provide for Black women’s political enterprise. It is imperative that we acknowledge this work and the institutions that make it possible for Black women to exercise their political will.
In sum, Black women’s political resolution for 2021 is a postmortem of sorts on 2020. Taking the lessons learned from this year to develop an agenda of action items to animate political activities in the new year requires buy-in from non-Black women. Indeed, the political culture must shift to give Black women their due. Black women have more than demonstrated that they are a powerful force within American politics, now it is time for America to repay them for their activism.
This wish list is a start, not a definitive list, of ways that the country can prioritize Black women’s politics.
Nadia E. Brown is an associate professor and University Faculty Scholar of political science and African American studies at Purdue University. Professor Brown is the author of the award-winning Sisters in the Statehouse: Black women and Legislative Decision Making. And the lead editor of Politics, Groups and Identities.
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