Opinion Pieces

Beware the ides of the African American woman

As Americans discuss the mid-term elections: very little is said about the greatest force in the present political landscape– African American women. Black women in America are exerting unacknowledged force in shaping politics in this country. In a focused motivated manner, black women are determinants of political power –through advocating for specific political action as a group or individually, making the demonstrative difference in close races, and racking impressive wins in areas thought out of bounds for them.

While a great deal of analysis has been given to the suburban soccer mom or the blue collar male from the Midwest or rust belt, African American women will not only be the determinant of many races in the 2018 midterm elections but by the time of the 2020 election may in fact be a determinant of the next president.

A precursor of the recent demonstrations of the ability of African American women to focus and execute on specific political objectives was the confirmation of Loretta Lynch. General Lynch was confirmed in April of 2015 after an unprecedented five month wait from President Obama’s nomination. Many credit the break in Senate Republicans to the organized and relentless lobby of black sororities rallying to support one of their own.

As a second and powerful example, black women were the decision makers in the 2017 Alabama special election Senate race, pushing Doug Jones to victory. Outvoting themselves as a percent of the population and despite voter suppression laws, black women made up 17 percent of the voters and 98 percent of their votes went for Jones in the close race. 

Individually since the Trump presidential win, black women have been the most penetrating of critics of the president. As elected officials Reps. Frederika Wilson (D-Fla.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), in many instances without the support of the Democratic Party, have challenged the presidents’ untenable actions. The president’s ire to the authority and vocal challenges of black women is constantly on display – through tweets, speeches and the language and actions of his chief of staff John Kelly and other surrogates. While he may be evoking the support of a racist portion of his base, he also understands that when black women speak, they do so with authority and facts behind them – whether it be news commentators, congresswomen, former staffers and even a mayor giving credible numbers to the costs of a parade. Trump understands that black women have throughout the American experience learned that when they step out – they do so with unequivocal sound facts and moral authority. Black women are in the words of Shirley Chisolm – unbought and unbossed.

African American women are also penetrating as elected officials in a diversity that is both geographic and experiential. The election in the last cycles of black women in majority white districts in the House of Representatives; Joyce Beatty (Ohio), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.) among others as well as Lisa Blount-Rochester as the sole member of Delaware have served as precursors to women such as Jahana Hayes in Connecticut and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In my own Virgin Islands, our recent primary elections had black women as the top vote getters.

The Democratic nomination and potential election of Stacey Abrams as governor of Georgia further demonstrates that at all levels of elected position black women will continue to demand positions. Despite their multitude of backgrounds and make up – lawyers, educators, scientists, Muslims, Christians – black women successfully running for office come as a rule overqualified and prepared for service for the positions they seek. That’s why it’s incredible that in discussions of leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives not many lists place black women as contenders of positions. That would be a mistake. In the coming months and the next couple of years black women will successfully organize for multiple and meaningful seats at the table. They will also demand through the ballot that issues dear to them and their communities be addressed by this country.