Since the Alabama special election, black women have been getting a round of thank yous for their role in securing an open U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats.
Ninety-eight percent of black women who voted in the state's special Senate election cast their vote for Doug Jones. Rep. Terri A. Sewell, (D-Ala.), Alabama’s first black woman elected to Congress, traveled to her Selma district in the final days of the campaign to help deliver the vote for Jones. And it was ultimately her district that gave Jones a decisive victory.
The women of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote the Alabama secretary of state on Tuesday requesting that he “immediately certify the results of the special election held on December 12, 2017.”
“Senator-elect Doug Jones has been duly elected and should be installed to represent the people of your great state,” the group’s letter said.
While Jones’s victory may have been a surprise, black women turning out for the Democratic candidate was not breaking news for anyone with even a minimal knowledge of identity politics in America. Black women were the key voting bloc to the success of many Democratic candidates in the November elections, including the Virginia governor's race. And they were the most dominant identity group to help Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
These stats were not lost on Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who told The Washington Post: “Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because black women led us to victory. Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can’t take that for granted. Period.”
But African American women on the ground in Alabama and nationwide do feel like the party takes them for granted despite their consistent support for Democratic candidates.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, hosted a roundtable the day after the election that focused on policies — including criminal justice reform, education, sexual harassment and health care — that affect black women and girls.
“Black women have long been on the forefront of change and progress in this country,” Coleman said before the event. “Sadly, we are so often left on the sidelines of critical discussions and policymaking that disparately impacts us and the communities we support.”
Alencia Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said that not only do African American women need to be heard, they also need to be part of the decision-making process.
“What [Tuesday] showed us is that progressive candidates and movements cannot win without black women as we firmly reject racism, sexism, and homophobia of any kind. Yet Black women shouldn’t have to carry the burden of saving communities from oppressive policies,” she said. “Any candidate or campaign looking to win an election must invest early — not just a few weeks before Election Day — in black women turnout, but also, and most importantly, leadership. Let black women lead on strategy and engagement; support black women candidates, resource campaigns geared toward our issues. And talk about the issues.”
Sentiments along the lines of “Black women saved us” have dominated social media since Jones defeated Moore, who was accused of sexually assaulting multiple teenage girls while he was in his 30s.
But the narrative that African American women were heading to the polls for the benefit of other groups shows a huge misunderstanding about why black women consistently vote for Democrats, activist Bree Newsome tweeted:
This narrative about Black voters "saving" Alabama would imply that majority of white voters--the majority of people in the state--wanted to be "saved" from Moore. They didn't. Black voters protected themselves
— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) December 13, 2017
On “The Daily Show,” host Trevor Noah asked correspondent Dulce Sloan if it's been nice to see “black women’s contributions finally recognized.”
“Yes! We’ve been through so much!” Sloan said. “And you’re welcome, white people. But let’s be honest: We didn’t do it for you. We did it for ourselves. No black woman cast her vote going, ‘This one’s for Scott!'” she said as the audience cracked up.
Black women show no signs of voting against the Democratic Party anytime soon. But they are demanding more than a trending hashtag from Democrats, especially during an administration in which they feel they are underrepresented. Inspired by the words of the late congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), black women are demanding a seat at the Democratic decision-making table — even if they have to bring their own chair.