After Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race this week, black women have been praised as the saviors of political decency and common sense in American politics. Exit polls showed 98 percent of black women voted for Jones, while 63 percent of white women voted for Moore. White women there supported Moore by an even larger margin than white women backed President Trump last year — despite reports that Moore had made inappropriate sexual advances on teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Thus the reaction on social media and among pundits Wednesday morning that quickly gave credit to black women (and black men, who went 93 percent for Jones) for “saving America from Roy Moore.” Much of this commentary castigated white women for their “malevolent” “internalized misogyny.” Writing for Vogue, Michelle Ruiz argued “that white women may be loud, proud pop feminists — what with their Taylor Swiftian squads and sparkly #GirlBoss iPhone cases and even their pussy hats — but when it comes right down to Election Day, they’re simply not there for the sisterhood. That mantle truly belongs to African-American women.”
And yes, all that is true. But the mantle of “savior of America” is far too heavy a load for black women to carry.
Instead of just thanking black women for protecting the nation from the voting patterns of white people, white feminists must organize white women. To invoke the civilizationist discourse of previous eras, white female voters are a prime mission field to which white feminists must bring the feminist gospel. Consider that the majority of white women voted for (losing) Republican candidates in this year’s gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as in Alabama. It is no secret that the GOP is no friend to the structural concerns of women at the policy level. For too many Republicans, “women’s issues” appear to begin and end with constricting abortion rights. Republican support for policies that actually aid women, children and families — affordable child care, good public schools, affordable health care, free birth control, paid family leave — is nonexistent.
These issues are bread-and-butter feminist concerns, but this fact continually escapes white female voters, who routinely skew Republican. Although political commentary frequently frames black people as hopelessly and endlessly obsessed with race, white women’s voting patterns suggest a deep investment in racial solidarity that trumps their own gender interests. White women’s lives are intimately intertwined with those of white men, the very people with the deepest investment and the most successful track record of maintaining a white-supremacist system. That power and privilege is incredibly seductive. Perhaps it is hard to see the benefit of throwing off proximity to power for the greater good of all women. It certainly sounds fluffy. But the #MeToo Movement should remind white women that proximity is very frequently more guns than roses.
It is the responsibility of all the white feminists out there who are justifiably shocked at how close we came to seeing Moore in the Senate to come get their people. And who are their people? White women. I understand that this kind of claim makes some white people uncomfortable because it is a brand of identity politics that paints with a broad brush. But identity politics are the reason that Jones is the new senator from Alabama, not Moore. And identity politics are the reason that white women continue to be on the wrong side of history. The height of white privilege is the ability to invoke one’s own individualism at will, to distance oneself from the group when the group has engaged in unsavory actions (voting for Moore — or, for that matter, voting for Trump). People of color in the United States don’t have such luxuries.
And really, white feminists don’t have these luxuries, either. By voting the way they do, white women have bought into a conservative set of ideas about race and gender that actually do them harm in the long term, even if they do more harm to women and men of color. Flocking to support powerful white men with too much money and too few scruples creates the conditions for the decades of abuse being exposed through the #MeToo movement. No, white women aren’t to blame for white men’s abusive behaviors; no woman ever is. But white women are complicit, particularly when they vote for a president who thinks it’s fine to grab women by the genitals and for a Senate candidate who had to be banned from the local mall in his 30s for harassing teenage girls.
To be clear, it is not my job as a black feminist to try to persuade white women to stop voting for white supremacy and patriarchy. Black women are often victims of the terrible political choices white women make, and it is never our job to teach the people who harm us how to be better people. But my white feminist colleagues and comrades seem not to understand the urgency of this moment. Nor do they seem to grasp the two-pronged nature of the job at hand: Yes, being a good feminist ally means lifting the voices of women of color and labor where appropriate. But it also means having the hard conversations with white female neighbors, family members, church and synagogue members, gym buddies and carpool comrades about what it would actually take to build a world that is safe for all women and children. They must frame their conversations in ways that take account of how different races and classes of women experience America. They must be willing to call out racism. White women keep demonstrating that racial unity with their family members matters more to them than building solidarity with women of other races.
This must change. Now.
Snarky takedowns and public ridicule of the white women who voted for Moore is no substitute for that work, either. When I made the argument on Twitter this week that white feminists needed to organize their own communities, a number of white women replied that they were embarrassed at the behavior of white women in Alabama. I understand the sentiment, but white guilt isn’t helpful. What is helpful is building a comprehensive plan to shift white women’s political attitudes, in ways that show up tangibly in their voting behavior in 2018 and 2020. Perhaps this seems like a long shot, but a Democratic senator winning an Alabama senate seat is about as improbable an outcome as there is. As Hillary Clinton said on Twitter on Tuesday, “If Democrats can win in Alabama, then we can — and must — compete everywhere.” Liberal election victories this year, plus the historic turnout for the Women’s Marches last January, seem to be a prompt from the universe that something bigger and better is possible, if we can only show up to the tasks at hand. And for white feminists, organizing white women is the task at hand.
Anything else is just performative wokeness. The world is on fire, and I don’t know any black woman who has time for that.