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Op-Ed: Dear DNC, don’t count on Black women to fix your party

Former First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the Democrats' virtual convention on Monday.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the Democrat’s virtual convention on Monday.
(DNCC via Getty Images)

I first saw the memes on a cold December night in 2017, while drinking red wine and watching my Twitter timeline celebrate Doug Jones’ victory in his Alabama race for a U.S. Senate seat. He had done the impossible — beat Republican Roy Moore, who was accused during the campaign of having sexually assaulted teenage girls — and become the first Democrat to hold the seat in 25 years.

The decisive factor in Jones’ victory, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said at the time, was Black women.

“Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can’t take that for granted,” Perez tweeted.

The overdue acknowledgment triggered a bizarre outpouring of gratitude to Black women, in which they were endowed with mystical qualities.

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“I said a prayer the other day,” actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted that night, “and when God answered me back she was a Black Woman.”

Black women have for decades existed as the invisible spine of the Democratic Party, consistently delivering support to candidates who ignored them once in office. So in a sense, it’s nice someone has finally recognized our enduring support.

But the long-awaited acknowledgment has been marred by a creepy form of gratitude that for me evokes the racist trope of a “mammy,” that fictional happy Black woman who not only thrives off domestic work but genuinely enjoys caring for white people.

In this new take by Democrats, stalwart Black women are seen as thrilled to be the party’s mules.

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But it’s not the role of Black women to scrub the floors of American politics.

As First Lady Michelle Obama was delivering her speech at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat living in Washington, tweeted exultantly that “Black women will save the United States.” I wasn’t the only Black woman who found that patronizing. The flurry of responses caused him to walk back his assertion.

“If I got a do-over,” the 50-year-old tweeted, “it would read, ‘The US does not deserve to be always saved by black women'.”

Tired of simply tweeting into the abyss, I decided to call him.

Guajardo told me he’d been trying to express something he’d heard from his wife, Paola Sada. She had pointed out to him an undeniable fact— Black women can always be counted on to overwhelmingly and consistently back progressive candidates. But the way Guajardo expressed this fact resurfaced the trope that it’s somehow our responsibility to save the country from the second term of a man we never supported.

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When I spoke with Sada, she was quick to explain that, like other wives, she acts as her husband’s filter. And Sada was not around when he fired off that poorly worded tweet. “I would’ve told him, ‘Don’t write that,’” she said.

Still, Sada said, she has appreciated how Black women have remained a consistent voice in calling out Trump’s racist, coded language.

“I think that’s why I came to believe that if anyone was going to ‘save’ American democracy from itself and its built-in racism, it was the leadership and moral clarity of Black women,” Sada said.

Sada did note her home country, Mexico, has problems of its own. Like America, she said, Mexico is rife with racism, misogyny and inequity. But the United States has for at least half a century promoted itself as a success story in this great experiment called democracy. And she, like me, is disappointed it has not lived up to its hype.

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This country truly sold us all a dusty bill of goods. And Sada recognizing this as an outside spectator reminded me I’m not imagining America’s flop.

The thing that worries me about Black women being used as a political trope is it reduces us to just a symbol. Sen. Kamala Harris is very qualified to be the vice president. But, if elected, will people be able to move past her identity and critique her policies?

“I get nervous that after this election, people will let up on the issues they’ve been focused on since the killing of George Floyd because of the symbolism of [Harris] as vice president,” said Candis Smith, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Smith said President Obama was given a pass by the left once he was in office, in part because he was the first Black president.

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“I’m not sure how many people were clear on how many people were deported under the Obama administration or how drones were used in other countries,” she said.

(For the record: Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were deported and Obama authorized at least 540 drone strikes.)

“I hope that’s a lesson we learned,” Smith said. “That we can’t hold back critique in order to protect the first fill-in-the-blank.”

I hope the left learned this lesson. Because one thing we know for certain is white supremacy has a way of enduring. Even if Joe Biden and Harris are elected, police brutality will still be a problem. So will racism in medicine, housing, wealth and just about every area of life.

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So, to all of you on the left who aren’t Black women: Don’t just count on us. Real democracy requires everyone.


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