Important and Unheard: The Black Women’s Vote

For The Johnsonian

Black women are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to voting and presidential elections.

According to data from The Washington Post and AFL-CIO, in 2008 and 2012, Black women voted at a higher rate than any other group of people. In 2012, 74 percent of eligible Black women voted in the presidential election and 96 percent of those women voted for President Obama; delivering key swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida for the campaign.

This should be of no surprise to pundits; according to a recent report released by AFL-CIO, Black women are one of the most progressive political voting blocs and have also been one of the most reliable voting blocs for Democrats with their large turnouts in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

But some Black women feel like the votes they cast for the Democratic party have been taken for granted and that the issues they care about haven’t been represented by either major party candidate. Winthrop students, Ashley Briggs and Me’Chelle McIntyer, are among those women.

Briggs said she feels that once elected officials are sworn into political office with the help of the Black vote, they don’t cash in on the previous promises they made to Black voters on the campaign trail.

“America has written black people, in a sense, a check that has yet to be cashed; and if you looked at it that way, the Democratic Party has written the same check for Black women,” Briggs said. “They get in and say these things like, ‘we’re going to do this for the Black community, we’re going to do that,’ but when it’s time for them to get into office we don’t see the fruits of their labor.”

According to a study conducted by Black Women’s Roundtable, top political priorities for Black women include affordable health-care, criminal justice reform and college affordability, with criminal justice reform and college affordability sharing the number two spot. For millennial Black women, criminal justice reform is the number one priority for 96 percent of the group and criminal justice reform rose 16 percent for Black women overall between 2015 and 2016.

The shift in criminal justice reform becoming a top priority for Black women is likely due to the current civil rights and social justice movements taking the country by storm. They are pushing to organize communities and to call for reform in both the criminal justice system and policing.

These movements have frequently seen Black women on the front-lines organizing direct action campaigns, but their interests have often been left out of conversations concerning police brutality and social justice held by the public and various politicians.

Briggs and McIntyer said they both want to see the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party take a firmer and more inclusive stance on supporting criminal justice reform.

“With me being a Black woman, that’s another thing that I look at — the social injustices that are happening. [The candidates] are just now opening their eyes up and looking into it. [Clinton’s] just now starting to represent and say their names—but we had to push you to say their names,” McIntyer said.

Briggs pushed even further, encouraging candidates to also speak about the Black women who have been killed by police or in police custody.

“Even when the Democratic Party is addressing the number of Black people who have been affected by police brutality, Black women who have fallen victim to police brutality — they’re not saying their names, we always hear about Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner — but what about the women? What about Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd?” Briggs asked.

Despite Clinton speaking about implicit bias while answering a question on policing during one of the presidential debates and sharing the democratic convention stage with ‘mothers of the movement’ this past July, she is still under scrutiny from many for comments she made in 1996, calling African-Americans ‘super-predators,’ and for the role her husband, President Bill Clinton, played in increasing mass incarceration that disproportionately affected Black communities, through policies he advocated for.

“Right now she has Black people saying ‘oh, she cares about us.’ Well, are you out there rallying with us? Are you out there speaking? What are you doing to help us? Are you passing laws? Have you passed laws that helped us or hurt us?” McIntyer asked.

Although there is a sense of ambivalence towards the Clinton campaign and the current presidential election in general, YouGov’s election model predicts that 90 percent of Black women who vote, will do so in support of Clinton on Nov. 8.

Black women realize the political power that they hold as voters and there are many nonpartisan campaigns encouraging Black women to vote, like the #BlackWomenVote campaign, which was created by the Higher Heights foundation.

The campaign aims to help Black women prepare to vote and get out the vote in their social networks. Glynda C. Carr, co- founder of Higher Heights, said she realizes the influence Black women have, not only in elections, but in their communities as political organizers.

“We know that when you fire up a Black woman, she does not go to the polls alone, she brings her house, her block, her church, her sorority, and her water cooler," Carr said.