Black women are the unsung heroes of American democracy

Women of color, like Stacey Abrams, have been leading the way in the U.S. for generations — they have been on the frontlines of fighting voter suppression, breaking glass ceilings and leading activist movements.

In her victory speech on Saturday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris deemed women–specifically Black women–“the backbone of our democracy.”

Harris herself is a series of historic firsts: first woman vice president-elect, first Black vice president-elect, first vice president-elect of South Asian descent — and the list goes on throughout her career. But despite the lack of representation and recognition the United States has given women of color, they have always been integral to the U.S. political landscape.

After coming within 55,000 votes of winning the governorship of Georgia on a Democratic ticket in 2018, Stacey Abrams is another Black woman who has come into the political spotlight. Abrams is largely credited with Georgia turning blue for president-elect Joe Biden, a state that has not elected a Democrat into the White House in nearly 30 years. Along with a network of Black female elected officials and advocates including Nsé Ufot, Helen Butler, Deborah Scott and Tamieka Atkins, Abrams helped to register more than 800,000 new voters in a state that was once overwhelmingly red. Abrams saw a state suffering from heavy racially charged voter suppression under Republican Governor Brian Kemp and made a substantial difference in the 2020 presidential election that rocked the way parties view the power of grassroots organizing.

On the other side of the country in Los Angeles, Holly J. Mitchell’s election also made history. With a campaign largely relying on a network of grassroots volunteers, Mitchell was voted onto the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the nation’s most powerful local governing body. The board will now be led by all women for the first time since its creation.

Cori Bush just became the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress. She ran on policies such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, a champion of progressive, forward-thinking politics in the United States.

While the increasing representation in public office may be a new development in recent years, women of color have been leading the way in the U.S. for generations. Sophomore communication studies and African American studies double major Nona Pittman spoke about how, despite the ways the U.S. has mistreated and devalued Black women, Black women have and will continue to show up for this country:

“There is so much work that needs to be done when recognizing the role Black women have played in the struggle for equality and democracy. We think back to protests such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and unfortunately remember the abstract idea of the boycott on its own, rather than doing the research to know the names and faces of the Black women that refused to sit in a public bus for 381 days. We think of the Black Liberation Movement, but don’t remember the names of Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis.

Stacey Abrams did what Black women have always done: she showed up. Along with Stacey Abrams, Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot, Deborah Scott and Tamieka Atkins showed up for the United States and played a crucial role in making sure the Black voice and vote were heard. These incredible women (and so many more, whose names we might unfortunately never have the pleasure of knowing) fought and displayed that Black votes matter, Black voices matter and Black women matter. In an America where we have seen white men dominate spaces since its founding, I have hope for our future. Because despite my own views on certain politicians’ policies, for the first time, young girls of color have an individual with power and influence to look up to who looks like them."

In the case of Black women and America’s democracy, every citizen owes Black women acknowledgment — at the bare minimum. But beyond saying thank you, it is important to invest in Black women. U.S. history shows the powerful role Black women have played in American instances of social change and political revival. Our future owes much to the blood, sweat and tears of unsung Black woman as political organizers.

Junior economics and theatre arts double major Uche Nwokike spoke of her struggles as a Black woman — feeling she has to work harder to prove to others that she is capable. She also discussed how women of color have been putting in that work since long before 2020:

"I’m elated to see women of color make groundbreaking changes within our country and finally receive recognition for their work. Women of color have been doing it for a long time without recognition. I think that women before have been pushed aside and not received credit where it is due, but the recognition that women are receiving now is progress, but there is also so much work that still needs to be done, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

As Harris put it during her election victory speech, “while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last." America is on a path for the better. We have to keep fighting for justice and investing in the people working for our future.

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