Today, Frontline Solutions is launching a new report, titled “Democracy’s Powerbrokers: Political Power of Women of Color,” some key findings of which are described in the article below.
“Mr. Vice-President, I’m speaking,” said Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pleasantly—and yet emphatically—while being interrupted at the vice-presidential debate on October 7th. Journalists from CNN, The Atlantic, and other mainstream media outlets were right to quickly point out that as a Black woman, Harris faced unique challenges during the debate of managing public perceptions and racist, sexist stereotypes. But Senator Harris’s power as a Black woman is also precisely how she landed on that debate stage.
Harris’s nomination as the vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party is not an indicator of progress in racial or gender equality. Rather, it is a reminder of what—or more specifically, who—brought this country to a point where a Black woman’s name is printed at the top of ballots nationwide. Black women have built and protected our democracy even when they have been deliberately and systematically excluded from participating in it. Black women have led the United States in the fight for abolition, suffrage, integration, civil rights, and women’s rights. In the midst of contemporary voter suppression, Black women have continued to vote at disproportionately high rates in key races. Kamala Harris and Joe Biden alike stand on the shoulders of the Black women who have come before them, have voted for them in past elections, and have become a political force to be reckoned with.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Trust Black Women”? It’s become a catch phrase of sorts, a lighthearted ode to the wisdom of Black women, or an acknowledgement that they get stuff done. However, trusting Black women has long been an actual strategy in electoral politics. Black women have profoundly impacted the results of both small and unheard-of, as well as prominent, races. In 2016, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in the US presidential race, correctly perceiving that a Trump presidency could be devastating for the country. A year later, 98 percent of Black women voted for Doug Jones in the US Senate race in Alabama, electing the first Democratic Senator in the state in two decades and preventing the reelection of a bigot and alleged sexual predator. Jones, of course, faces a tough reelection campaign this year, but his election to the US Senate in 2017 owes everything to the mobilization of Black women, as was widely acknowledged in media accounts at the time.
Indeed, as they showed up to vote in the interest of themselves and their own families in the 2017 election in Alabama, Black women were heralded as saviors and received a moment of national recognition.
We saw this mobilization continue in the 2018 midterm elections: turnout for Black women was six percentage points higher than the national electorate in 2018 (55 percent versus 49 percent), and Black women are expected to play an influential role in the 2020 presidential election. Furthermore, Black women are featured prominently on the ballot this year: 61 Black women are running for Congress alone in 2020. Calls to #TrustBlackWomen have been joined by calls to elect Black women.
But what about investing in Black women? The political candidacy of Black women in the US is woefully underfunded compared to their white and male counterparts. And amidst the obsession over Black women’s roles in electoral politics, there is a lack of appreciation for and investment in the grassroots organizations that drive political participation—through promoting policies that matter to Black women; through supporting the campaigns of Black women; and through engaging Black women as voters, advocates, strategists, and whole people. If we expect Black women to keep running for office, turning out to vote, and generally driving our democracy, philanthropy must invest in organizations that are led by Black women and for Black women.
It is not enough to promote inclusion in white-led organizations. Wilnelia Rivera, in an interview last year with NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez, explained why. Rivera, a Black Latina in Massachusetts, was chief strategist and advisor for Ayanna Presley’s successful run for Congress, which unse