In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed a group in Rochester and gave his famous speech, "What, to the Slave, Is the Fourth of July?" In that speech, he questioned the meaning of celebrating Independence Day and the implications for enslaved Black people. Douglass called for an examination of the disconnect between national platforms and the lived experiences of the enslaved, ultimately surmising that there was no legitimate cause for them to participate in any nationalist activity on that day.
On November 8, 2016, American voters went to the polls and cast their ballots to determine who would succeed the first Black president, Barack Obama. According to the latest tallies, the people chose former U.S. senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. However, by way of the Electoral College, the body that represents the will of the people, Donald Trump — a repeated failure of a business man who campaigned on extremism, bigotry, and pretty much everything antithetical to what America allegedly stands for — will become the next president of the United States.
In the days immediately following the election, there was a lot of speculation about who was responsible for such a horrifying outcome — surely someone had to be held accountable for making the impossible our new political reality, right? Well, there is one group that cannot be blamed and will not accept any attempt to point fingers or be condemned as culprits: Black Women.
Black women voted overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton, with over 93% of votes cast going towards the would-be first female president. It is well-known that Black women are the most powerful voting bloc and efforts like the #BlackWomenVote campaign focused on increasing Black women voter turnout and it worked. Or did it?
Black women had been early supporters of Clinton, dating back to when she ran against President Obama. During that primary season, many Black women stood with Clinton, recalling her husband’s presidency and found comfort in supporting her because of how their lives improved during President Clinton’s tenure. Older women gravitated towards her for sure, as many of them supported a number of Bill's policies that hindsight later revealed were actually quite detrimental to Black Americans. Still, there was a lot of love for her that shifted to support then senator Barack Obama and the promise of electing the first Black president.
So when Hillary ran again, many Black women got fired up and were ready to go to the polls to elect her and when it became clear she was running against a pathological liar and tyrannical monster, we worked even harder to use the power of our vote to seal the deal. Then, according to the most recent exit polling, while 94% of Black women supported Clinton, 58% of Whites, 29% of Asians, 29% of Latinos, 37% of “other race”, and 8% of Black people (13% of Black male voters) voted for Trump.
This was not our fault. We did what we had to do, even when many of us experienced reluctance because of our gripes with the Clinton legacy and the Democratic party as a whole, and it was not enough. We could not carry this election on our backs, though I imagine many expected us to do just that. So what, to Black women, does Election Day mean?
It means that we continue to commit ourselves to participating in a system that is skewed against us and does not listen to us or respect us enough to follow our guidance.
It means that we show up and continue to fulfill our civic duty, even as people who remain at the intersection of racial and gender-based bigotry, and continue to endure some of the most difficult challenges in our daily lives.
It means that we understand the historical implications of being denied the right to vote both as women and as Black people, and we choose to exercise the right we fought doubly hard to obtain. And with all of that, we still remain overwhelmingly ignored, incredibly disenfranchised, and charged with the responsibility of fixing others' problems and making things better for everyone else.
How do we, one of the most disrespected and undervalued groups on the planet, even allow ourselves to absorb such incredible responsibility for acting in a way that benefits everyone more than us? I have been giving this a great deal of thought lately, as someone who came out early in support of Clinton and repeatedly challenged a lot of the vicious rhetoric around her candidacy, and have come up with only one solid idea: We take care of ourselves.
It is time for Black women to unequivocally prioritize ourselves and focus on strengthening our commitment to improving our own lives. These are a few ways in which we can do that, by harnessing the political power we have and redirecting it towards ourselves:
1. Increase Support for Black Women Political Candidates
One of the most difficult realities to face is the dearth of Black female representations on every level of government. While Kamala Harris was just elected the second Black woman senator, we still have a long way to go to make sure Black women are represented as congresswomen, state senators, mayors, governors, attorney generals, and more. We have to consolidate our resources, both human and financial, and work to strengthen and protect those women who want to affect political change.
2. Commit to Participating More in Community-Based Organizations
A lot of the work being done that has direct impact on the future of Black women’s lives begins at home. Black women around the country act as community organizers and start community-based non-profits, but we need more support. If every Black woman who voted committed just an hour a week of her time volunteering at a local program that supports the positive development of children and teens, educates adults and improves political literacy, or helps improve economic empowerment, we would see tremendous changes across the country.
3. Organize Efforts to Educate and Empower Voters
Many American voters are uninformed voters. Only 36% of adults can correctly name all three branches of government and when I recently asked my Twitter followers how many could name at least ten U.S. senators, most admitted they could not. We can work to make sure that people in our communities are informed and aware of the inner-workings of political processes, are familiar with the platforms of people running for local offices, and know their rights and responsibilities as voters.
4. Practice Radical Self-Love and Appreciation
As I said earlier, this was not our fault, so we should not accept blame in the outcome. Instead, we deserve to take some time out to turn inward and tend to our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. We should continue to embody and spread our Black Girl Magic as we've been doing for several years now. We should continue to create, to build, to innovate, and most importantly, to love and appreciate ourselves in all of the ways others do not.
5. Educate Ourselves and Remain Plugged Into World Politics
Finally, we cannot become complacent. After every election, there is increased speculation on what we should do now and how we move forward. This is the perfect time to brush up on your knowledge of current world leaders and their political leanings, as well as the current political climate in key countries like Russia, China, the U.K., South Africa, Cuba, and beyond. If we want to be globally competitive and truly harness our political power, we need to make sure we are informed about developments around the world.
Black women do not owe anyone anything right now. Or ever, really. We simply owe it to ourselves to seriously consider where we go from here and how we can begin to have a less supportive role and occupy more of the central stage. There has never been a time more ripe for our emergence as global leaders, so we need to move forward with any and all plans that center Black womanhood and its unique power.