Sharaya Tindal Wiesendanger
A week has gone by since the 2018 midterms took place. State to state, Black women came up big winners. From sea to shining sea, Black women ran for office and in many cases, were the first Black women ever to win their elected office. Starting in the most liberal of states, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts is the first African-American congresswoman-elect in the state. Former educator and national teacher of the year, Jahana Hayes will be the first Black woman to represent the 5th district of Connecticut – standing in the gap for cities like Waterbury which are heavily populated by poor Black women. In our home state of New York, Letitia James will be sworn in as the first African-American female Attorney General. At only 31 years old, Lauren Underwood performed a stunning upset in the 14th district of Illinois by unseating the long-serving republican congressman. Ms. Underwood will be the first African-American women to occupy the seat. Joining Ms. Underwood in this new class of Black women electeds, Juliana Stratton will become the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois from African descent.
Ilhan Omar defied all the political odds as an African-born, Muslim refugee running for national office. She will lead Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. Ms. Omar’s win is particularly spectacular as she replaces former Rep. John Conyers whose tenure ended amid a sexual harassment scandal. Her victory could be seen as a redemption story: A Black woman reclaiming and protecting her community from a powerful man who took advantage of women’s trust and bodies.
In what can only be described as poetic justice, Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis – the slain 17-year-old young man who was gunned down in Jacksonville Florida by an angry white man over loud music – and national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety won her bid for congresswoman of Georgia’s 6th district. We continue to watch and pray as they say, for our sister Stacey Abrams and her run for governor of Georgia. Should the electoral process be just, Ms. Abrams will become the first Black woman governor. In Texas, #Blackgirlmagic was on full display when 19 African-American women were elected to judgeships in Harris County Texas. These women worked together collectively, running together in Black love and solidarity. When the ballots were tallied, all 19 won their seats.
We cannot forget the tireless work of Black women and girls who supported these candidates, organized, door-knocked and phone-banked for these candidates. Black women have consistently voted for democratic candidates and our poll numbers are historically solid. The results of their voting in the 2018 midterms was an unprecedented number of African-American women being elected to office.
And results are what matter. While many on the Left have been celebrating these historic wins, those of us who know the history of sexual assault legislation, economic policy, and gender-based violence remain cautiously and marginally optimistic. We understand that when women make public political strides, there is always major backlash. These new elected officials will be part of the progress that needs to take place to push forward necessary policies that protect survivors. On the local level, Black women will continue to do the hard work of organizing and advocacy to ensure the safety of Black women and girls against male sexual aggression and unwanted advances. Whatever these newly appointed electeds will bring to the table in support of survivors and Black women in general, will be met with increased opposition. This we know.
We also know that our white and non-Black co-conspirators will have a very tough road ahead of them if they want to be a part of the liberation of Black women in this country. If they truly believe in a liberation that binds Black, non-Black women of color and white women together, white and non-Black women will have to work harder to move their fellow sisters toward the arc of justice – toward an intersectional understanding of race, gender and economics. It is very easy to become cynical or give up on white women because of their clear allegiance to white supremacy. But Black women can never give up on our fight for racial, gender and economic equality. Co-conspirators cannot get off easier than the women they claim to support. Which means they will stand with us in the fight for our lives and they will work their hardest to explicate to other white women the need for a real gender solidarity; one of historic proportions that will make historic gains for all women – led by Black women. It will be difficult, nearly impossible work, but it must be done. The work begins now.