The night of the 2020 election I was filled with heightened levels of anxiety and imagined alternative futures. I obsessively checked CNN to look at the electoral maps and watch John King, the handsome news correspondent with the bluest of eyes, explain the map over and over and over. I was calling friends to discuss the election, that I oh so foolishly thought would be over in one or two days. Days later, America and I were hunched over screens, still waiting for results. As the votes were still pouring in, it showed the division of the country in physical form. Shocker. Two weeks later, I heard and saw the words I had been waiting for posted on every possible news outlet, “The projected winner is…” When I heard Joe Biden won my eyes flooded with tears. I looked at Kamala Harris in awe, a woman who bears my skin color, and I felt hopeful again. I missed that feeling. I waited to see Donald Trump concede, but he didn’t. Another shocker. Looking at the exit polling data I discovered the key group of voters that led Biden to victory. The group? Black women.
During the Women’s Suffrage Movement between 1840 and 1920, Black and White women were fighting for their voice to count, but separately. Black women organized political groups and held their own meetings in which they generated ideas on how to receive the right to vote. One of these women, Nannie Helen Burroughs was a champion for women’s rights. She helped to create the National Association of Colored Women and the National Training School for Women and Girls. Regarding the Nineteenth Amendment, she said, “When the ballot is put into the hands of the American woman the world is going to get a correct estimate of the negro woman.” Women must fight to make their voices heard and fiercely defend one another.
In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified giving all women the right to vote. Even though Black women were granted the right, states and communities, especially in the southern states, created specific laws dedicated to making sure that all African Americans couldn’t vote. Before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, Black American men had the right to vote due to the Fifteenth Amendment. Although both amendments gave African Americans the right to vote, the amendments did not prohibit the deterrents, which restricted African Americans from voting. These laws forced literacy tests and poll taxes on African Americans. Black Americans were fearful of voting, due to intimidation and violence. In particular, the fatal risk of being lynched.
After decades of Black Americans fighting for equal voting rights, a change was made that led to a better future. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed The Voting Rights Act of 1965. The goal was to counteract legal barricades that made it difficult for Black Americans to vote. While the bill was a strong move in the right direction, African Americans still had to deal with intimidation tactics.
According to national exit polls from NBC news, 90 percent of Black women voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; a key component of their success. After winning the election Biden and Harris made victory speeches in Wilmington, Delaware. Harris, dressed in a stunning white pantsuit with a tiny American flag pin adorning it (she’s giving us democracy), addressed all women, in particular Black women, saying, “Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all, including the Black women who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.” After this statement, the masked crowd energetically cheered and some honked their car horns in support. Her infectious smile warmed the hearts of the ecstatic crowd.
In this election, Black women made their presence known in the state of Georgia. Joe Biden won the state, turning it from red to blue, something that hasn’t been done for a presidential election since 1992. A court ordered recount confirmed Biden’s win. This victory will leave a lasting impact by showing other democratic candidates running for office in traditional republican states that a flip is possible.
The color changing in Georgia wouldn’t have been possible without Stacey Abrams, a big political activist and lawyer within the state of Georgia. She made history in 2018 as the first Black woman to win a primary election for governor of a major political party. Abrams is thought to be the reason why Biden won Georgia. Abrams encouraged Black people, in particular, Black women to register to vote by creating a voting rights group called Fair Fight. Their mission statement echoes the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.” In an editorial in the New York Times, Abrams urged voter activity, pleading for action she wrote, “vote because we deserve leaders who see us, who hear us and who are willing to act on our demands. Voting will not save us from harm, but silence will surely damn us all.”
Women played a big role in this election by showing up in greater numbers than men. According to NBC’s exit polling data 57 percent of women voted. Black women specifically are an essential voting group. When Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat in the state of blood-red Alabama, won his election, the Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, tweeted, “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.” Exactly Tom. Not just any ole’ backbone, the backbone.
Voting this year was also important for some first-time voters. On progessive.org, an online political magazine based in Wisconsin, eighteen-year-old Tziah Mcnair, a Black girl from Wisconsin, wrote about voting for the first time in the election. After discussing the importance of voting to fight for victims of racial injustices, she rhetorically asks who she is voting for, “families separated at the border? And the women and LGBTQ+ communities whose rights to health care seem to be up for grabs?” She ends by eloquently stating, “and for every other group whose livelihood has been threatened over these past four years.” When voting we must not only think of ourselves but the livelihood of others; people must recognize that their vote sets the path for the future of the country.
“Women must fight to make their voices heard and fiercely defend one another.
Ta’Nina Gatison, a first-time Black woman voter from Connecticut with a promising career in teaching said, “This is the most important election in my lifetime. We’re in the midst of two pandemics, a health pandemic with the coronavirus and a racial pandemic. In 2020, we shouldn’t have to say that Black lives matter, that should be the norm, our lives should be equivalent to everyone else’s.”
Jane Elliot, a diversity educator and early leader in diversity training, famously asked a large group of White Americans whether they would be ‘happy’ to live their lives as Black Americans in this country. So, White America, I’ll ask Ms. Elliot’s question again, would you be ‘happy’ to live your life as a Black American in this country? Black America, I’ll propose a different question to you, if there is nothing done to improve racial tensions and divides, what will America look like in twenty years? The future requires togetherness, and togetherness can create a future we’re all dreaming of. Voting sets a blueprint for the future, let’s make sure it’s designed well.
Jordan Jackson is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine
Header Photo credit: The Houston Chronicle