Black women are often ignored in discussions of politics or our society in general, so it is nice to see credit given where it is due in the case of Doug Jones’ unexpected win in the Alabama Senate race. Jones was carried to victory on the votes of black people — especially black women, who made up 17% of the voting population in Alabama. Around 93% of black men and 98% of black women voted for Doug Jones, showing up to the polls in numbers that almost matched the 2008 election. After the win, many on the left took to social media to thank black women for saving Alabama, and this country, from what would have otherwise been a disastrous loss.
But it is important to realize the obstacles faced by those black women who took the time to show up, too: over 80% of black mothers in America are the sole breadwinners in their household (compared to 40% of white women), yet they make approximately 65 cents on each dollar a white man makes (while white women make 82 cents). Black mothers are dying in childbirth at three times the rate of white mothers. Over 28% of black women live in poverty, compared to only 10.8% of white women. Black women are more likely to die from cancer, to have hypertension, to be sexually assaulted. Black women struggle with all of this, every day, and still — in a state that apparently did everything it could to keep black people from the polls after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — black women showed up in Alabama to do what was right.
Black women showed up, not because they are the saviors of white society, but because they have always shown up, because they have always had to show up. As black women, we have shown up for jobs even with increased rates of racial and sexual harassment and discrimination. We have shown up in the streets to protest for black lives. We have shown up for our children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren after black men are stolen away by the prison industrial complex. We show up even though it is brutalizing us, and even killing us and our children. But it is only appreciated when it happens to help save white people from their own disastrous decisions.
Black women also showed up to defeat Trump: 94% of black women voters chose Hillary, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the 52% of white women and 62% of white men who chose Trump. So they were not appreciated. I remember when the election results came out hearing from multiple white liberals that they blamed the defeat of Clinton not on white voters who literally chose Trump, but on black voters who didn’t come out to pulls in numbers as high as they had for Obama. If only black women had, once again, given absolutely everything they could in spite of it all, then Trump wouldn’t be president today, they swore — even though, of course, white people could have simply voted for Clinton, or convinced their own friends and relatives to vote for Clinton, rather than expecting a minority of voters to save them from the wishes of their own demographic.
If you appreciate black women, don’t just appreciate when we show up for you.
So in light of all of this, what does “appreciation” for black women actually look like? It has to be more than some social media congratulations to the unnamed mass of African American women (most of whom the congratulators might never acknowledge in real life) for keeping an alleged pedophile from taking office in the U.S. Senate despite the best efforts of the majority of Alabama’s white voters. It has to be a broad recognition of the struggles that black women face every day, and a genuine attempt to help lift that burden. We need funding for head start programs for our children, better access to unbiased, affordable healthcare, attention and money for programs like the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative and The Empowerment Program that help lift black women out of poverty. We need white people to vote for black women in local and national offices, donate to their campaigns and help get out the vote for them. And we need more people fighting to protect black women and their loved ones from police violence, and to show that black lives do indeed matter to you, by fighting for the equality and justice that has been denied black people in our social, civil and economic systems.
If you appreciate black women, don’t just appreciate when we show up for you in a world that has never shown up for us. Try showing up with us instead. Every day.
Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and internet yeller. Her book, "So You Want To Talk About Race," will be released in January 2018 with Seal Press.