Editor’s Note: Kerra L. Bolton is the founder of Unmuted Consulting, a strategic political communications consultancy and online academy that helps individuals, communities and organizations spark and drive change. She also is a freelance writer and former political reporter and analyst in North Carolina. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
America, you were in danger, girl.
That is until 96% of African-American voters saved democracy and human decency by defeating Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday in Alabama’s US Senate race.
Equally revealing in the exit polls was the widening chasm between white and black female voters. This mirrors America’s unspoken, yet persistent, whitewashing of feminism.
Nearly two-thirds of white women in Alabama voted for Moore, even though exit polling showed a slight majority of all voters believed the allegations of Moore’s sexual misconduct were “definitely or probably true.” Moore denied the accusations.
Meanwhile, 98% of black women voted for Doug Jones. But many of those votes weren’t as much cast for Jones as they were cast against Moore, who said the last time America was great was during slavery and championed eliminating all constitutional amendments after the 10th. This would include the 13th and 14th amendments, which abolished slavery and promised “equal protection under the law.”
Conventional wisdom suggests white women in Alabama voted for Moore because they identified with his evangelical and anti-abortion stances, as if black people, let alone women, don’t care about these issues. The data just doesn’t support such assumptions.
Black women, in fact, are among the most religious demographic in the nation, with 74% affirming that “living a religious life is very important,” compared to 57% of white women who were asked the same question.
In addition, abortion rates among black and Latina women dramatically decreased between 2008 and 2014 (32-39%) compared to whites during that same period, according to an October study by the Guttmacher Institute.
Arguably, black women are the most “churched” people on the planet, but still showed up to vote against the evangelical candidate accused of sexual assault and pursuing teenage girls while holding public office.
The uncomfortable truth is, some women continue to uphold the white supremacist and patriarchal attitudes they vowed to smash in 2017. Hillary Clinton called it when she said that white women married to men felt pressure to vote with their husbands and male relatives in mind, while single and black women voted with the interests of all women in mind. Research backs up her point.
The invisibility was perhaps most acutely obvious in the Time magazine “Person of the Year” print cover in which Tarana Burke, the founder of the #metoo movement, was not included. The article took over 1,000 words to finally get to Burke’s story, even though her hashtag led to an ongoing, national conversation about sexual assault and harassment and resulted in the toppling of powerful men in Hollywood, politics and media.
Reversing this kind of erasure involves two important steps. When women change their relationship with men from submission to true partnership, we won’t elect and focus on men who dominate women’s bodies through sexual assault and harassment.
Second, it’s time for us to have a come-to-Jesus moment about how well the American experiment of democracy is really working.
Marginalized people vote in formation on race and social justice issues because we’re still looking through the fence, waiting for the promises enshrined in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to include us in the spirit and application of the law.
Some white people assume these values already do because they already enjoy the benefits without having to think about the meaning of them. But as my friend Peter, a white man, says, “You can’t truly be an American and tolerate racism, white supremacy and male privilege. If you do, then you aren’t really aware of what this democratic experiment is all about.”
Maybe real heroes don’t wear capes, but we sure could use freedom, equality and access for all to decent health care, education and housing.