Black Women Vote. Lawmakers Can’t Take Them For Granted Anymore

Written by Staff

By Jocelyn Frye and Michele L. Jawando

In 2016, pundits and political strategists expected black women to continue their historical trends by voting in large numbers.

To the surprise of these experts, turnout among black women fell from more than 70 percent to 64 percent. Although black women still outperformed almost all other voters, with their turnout percentage slightly behind the turnout of white women, the decline was dramatic and—in some instances—pivotal.

Black women comprise 7 percent of the U.S. population, yet just 5 percent of federal judges, 4 percent of mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities, and 3 percent of members of Congress and state legislators.

Black women are a powerful force in the American political system. In 2008 and 2012, they turned out to vote at higher rates than any other demographic group, playing a decisive role ushering in new candidates across the country. Black women’s civic participation embodies the stated ideals of the nation’s participatory democracy: They consistently recognize and value the importance of being politically active and engaged in order to effect change in their communities. At the same time, the civic engagement of black women too often does not result in concrete policy changes that are responsive to their needs. While black women are always expected to turn out and provide support, the public narrative about women—and more importantly about what women need—frequently focuses on white women, typically those with economic resources.

Black women continue to face an appalling and exploitive wage gap that perpetuates poverty and stifles economic mobility. On average, they earn 34 percent less than white men with the same education, experience, marital status, and region of residence.

One study found that when women enter traditionally male-dominated fields, the average pay for those occupations declines, even after controlling for education, work experience, and geography. Furthermore, black women suffer from a range of health disparities, including high rates of asthma, fibroids, and breast and cervical cancer mortality. Despite these systemic and often intergenerational challenges, black women continue to demonstrate a greater trust in government and belief in its potential to serve as a catalyst for upward mobility than other demographic groups.

A key takeaway from the election results is that lawmakers seeking the support of black women cannot afford to take them for granted. Lawmakers must be proactive and intentional to understand and address the challenges that black women face, including the barriers and biases that limit their opportunities and the disparities they experience in local communities. Policymakers must develop constructive solutions to address such concerns, in order to improve the status of black women and advance policies that promote stability, opportunity, and prosperity across the nation.

Read more at American Progress.

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  • Maddawg 2020

    This is obviously a column, as it contains opinion. What bothers me about it is that it dismisses an obvious option that has been ignored for generation-the formulation of a political party with its own platform that directly addresses the needs of Black women. As a Black man, it is disheartening to to accept the unspoken assumption that Black women (or even Black men for that matter) should wait for politicians and policymakers to court their votes only during election season. Black women have carried political influence in our community for generations. They are often in position to do what their disenfranchised counterparts cannot do-vote in large numbers. I would venture to say that from 1960 to now, considering all of the mayors, assemblypersons, State Senators, congresspersons, Governors, US Senators, and Presidents, Black women have probably casts one BILLION votes, collectively, for Democrats. That said, where have any of these candidates or officeholders been when one of our children are murdered by police, jailed for crimes they did not commit, or more harshly sentenced when mistakes or lapses in judgement occur. Where are the officeholders when our children are forced to be indoctrinated by an obviously white supremacist K-12 curriculum? Where are the officeholders hiding as job discrimination continues to run rampant? What has ONE BILLION VOTES got us? Where is the ONE BILLION votes hashtag? It’s not enough to assert that votes shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s time to call for proactivity. #ONEBILLIONVOTES