If progressives are serious about thanking Black women, it’s past time for them to act like it

OPINION: If we can use this moment to invest in and listen to Black women, there is no limit on the nation’s future prosperity

Organizers of the Black Women Matter march (L-R) Ashley, Aurora and Sarah J pose for a photo on July 03, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Eze Amos/Getty Images)

For generations, Black women have been on the frontlines of justice trying to make their lives and the lives of others better. But rarely do Black women receive the same respect. Progressives claim to be grateful for the support of Black women who have shown up countless times for them in almost every election in recent history, but they fail to listen and deliver when Black women are raising key issues that matter for our country. 

When people say there are two Americas, we say this is, in fact, America. The lack of action and protection for Black Americans is a pattern in this country. America gives us everything but what we ask for to improve our lives.

Following all of the senseless police violence and murders last year, Black Americans wanted less militarized policing and more access to opportunity. Instead, we received statements of solidarity and solace instead of policy change. Large corporations pledged their support for diversity and inclusion and then fell far short on their investments.

This year, as the fight for voting rights continues, America is yet again ignoring pleas for action. The late Rep. John Lewis almost died on the Edmund Pettus Bridge more than 50 years ago protesting voter suppression. One year after his passing, members of Congress issued statements of remembrance, ironically including those who continue to support the filibuster and who’ve blocked progress on voting rights discussions.

Vigil Marking One Year Since Passing Of Rep. John Lewis In D.C.'s Black Lives Matter Plaza
Voting rights activists take part in a “Good Trouble Candlelight Vigil for Democracy” at Black Lives Matter Plaza July 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and his administration continue to give speeches filled with voting rights rhetoric, but staying cautious about supporting direct action like eliminating the filibuster. For decades, Black women have carried the Democratic Party on their backs – organizing, voting and showing up. Without them, Democrats would be looking at a 20-80 Senate micro minority and Donald Trump would still be in office.

The truth is progressives are missing the mark when it comes to listening to Black women who need more than lip service. Recent polling conducted by brilliant corners Research & Strategies on behalf of The Highland Project shows that Black women are concerned about racism, discrimination and voting rights.

Because of discrimination and lack of economic and educational opportunities, Black women are facing a never-ending uphill battle when it comes to achieving a relatively modest degree of financial stability and remain fearful that the next generation will face the same challenges. Activists like LaTosha Brown have been warning us for a long time about voter suppression and we should take them seriously.

Yet the juxtaposition couldn’t be more clear: Black women — including Rep. Joyce Beatty who serves this country in the United States Congress  — were arrested for demanding voting rights when just months before, white supremacists were allowed to riot in the same building and some still face little to no consequences. 

Rep. Joyce Beatty arrested by Capitol police
Rep. Joyce Beatty arrested by Capitol police (Photo: Jessica Floyd)

What’s more, the survey highlights that while a majority of Black women now think the country is heading in the right direction, a third still think economic conditions in the country are getting worse. Bluntly put, the economy is not back for Black women.

In December of last year, Black women were pushed out of the nation’s economy, suffering job losses and facing challenges on child care and caring for loved ones, making them among the most impacted groups by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social crises. As we recover from the pandemic, Black women must be at the center of efforts to get the nation back on track. Progressives must speak directly to them and stop talking in broad terms about economic recovery, leaving Black women to wonder if they’re going to be helped or seen at all. 

If America continues to “reckon” with its past injustice, progressives must also reflect and realize they, too, can be part of the problem. But it’s about where we go from here that truly matters.

If we can use this moment to invest in and listen to Black women, there is no limit on the nation’s future prosperity because when Black women lead and are listened to, everyone gains from it. Unless we get serious about removing barriers to their success and sustaining generational progress, we will continue to miss opportunities and Black women will tire of supporting progressive values that are nothing more than empty promises. 

Black women have been underrepresented, undervalued and underinvested in too often. But that does not mean they should ever be underestimated. If progressives are serious about thanking Black women, it’s past time for them to act like it.

Gabrielle Wyatt is founder of The Highland Project, an initiative that supports Black women leaders in growing generational wealth for Black communities.

Cornell Belcher is President of brilliant corners Research & Strategies, a leading strategist in national progressive politics and a political contributor for MSNBC.

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