In recent years, Black women have proven to be the most active voting demographic in the nation. A 2014 Center for American Progress report found that black women represented the largest portion of nonwhite female voters, at the time making up roughly 43 percent of women of color that were eligible to vote and 13.4 percent of all women eligible to vote.
Despite Black women’s voting power and consistent support for progressive candidates and issues, their political participation still hasn’t necessarily translated to meeting their policy needs. Last year, Black women activists, civic and community leaders, and elected officials penned an open letter to Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez calling out the “absence of [their] inclusion in discussions about the Party’s forward movement” while questioning “whether the Party values [their] loyalty and takes [their] commitment seriously.”
With only 19 African-American women in Congress – representing a paltry 3.5 percent of both chambers – this year, Black women are ready to see a return on their investment. Taking matters into their own hands, Black women are ramping up their efforts to increase their political representation. Pushing forward with this movement is BlackHer, an online platform with the mission to provide resources and important information that highlights the visible and loud chorus of African American women that can shift elections, shape consumerism, and reinvent America’s broken systems.
After Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016, BlackHer founders Jocelyn Harmon and Angela Dorn realized that this confirmed and exacerbated Black women’s worst fear – the U.S. is capable of electing a racist and sexist to the nation’s highest office.
To enable Black women to harness their political power to fight back, Harmon and Dorn created “The Black Woman’s Guide to The 2018 Midterm Elections,” which includes access to voter registration and information about the top political and economic issues at stake.
I got the chance to sit down with Jocelyn Harmon to chat about the importance of creating BlackHer and the impact they’re looking to have with the new platform.
JP: Why do you think it’s important for Black women voters to have a go-to political platform dedicated specifically to them?
JH: Even across income, Black women are in a similar boat. For example, even middle class and upper-middle-class women are struggling. Because of centuries of racism, Black women face unique structural challenges, especially when it comes to our ability to realize and advance our economic and political power. As your report Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class outlines, “if the racial wealth divide is left unaddressed, median Black household wealth is on a path to hit zero by 2053. In sharp contrast, median White household wealth would climb to $137,000 by 2053.”
Policies like redlining thwarted our ability to buy homes in desirable neighborhoods. InThe Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap, Tom Shapiro, et.al show “homeownership as the biggest driver of the racial wealth gap.”
Unfortunately, for Black women, the racial wealth divide is only half the battle. In Women and Wealth: Insights for Grantmakers, Mariko Chang also notes that, “women of color experience both a gender wealth gap and a racial wealth gap. The historical legacy of the racial wealth gap in combination with the women’s wealth gap leaves women of color with the least amount of wealth. Single Black women have a median wealth of $200 and single Hispanic women $100, less than a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by single White non-Hispanic men.”
On a positive note, Black women are ready and eager to make change. We had the highest voter turnout in the 2008 and 2012 elections and we are a critical progressive voting bloc. And as we saw in the Alabama special election, we vote for versus against our interests. This is good for us and millions of others.
To significantly improve our economic outcomes, we need to devise a policy agenda that is by and for us to put our unique experiences, skills, and worldview front and center.
JP: What’s at stake for Black women in the upcoming midterm elections? What kinds of opportunities/challenges do they face?
JH: So much! At a macro-level, we are the leaders of the progressive movement in the U.S. The realization of progressive policies of all kinds, depends on our vote and participation in every election.
The 2018 midterms, in particular, matter for Black women because all politics are local. For example, if we don’t want guns in our schools, if we don’t want our civil rights stripped, if we want to decriminalize marijuana, if we want to raise the minimum wage, and more, then we have to be at the table for all local and state elections too.
The 2018 midterms are also critical for Black women because many of the state legislators and governors we elect this fall will be in power when we use the 2020 census data to redraw congressional and state level maps. These maps are powerful. They determine how much money districts get. They can also dilute our votes.
Last, but certainly not least, Black women have an opportunity to significantly increase our representation at all levels of government this election season by voting, volunteering and giving to our own. According to a new database, called Black Women in Politics, there are over 600 Black women running for local, state and federal offices this season.
We showcase many amazing candidates in our guide and provide resources for Black women to learn more. One of the reasons that we wrote The Black Woman’s Guide to the Midterms is that we want us to know about and support our sisters!
JP: What are some issues that upcoming candidates should speak about if they’re looking to engage Black women voters?
JH: Black women care about making our communities thrive. This includes improving our educational, healthcare, and criminal justice systems. Advancing economic justice is also important to us because our access to capital (or lack thereof) drives all of these other outcomes.
The distressing fact is that even though Black women are doing everything right – working full time, starting new businesses, and attaining bachelor’s degrees – we’re not getting ahead. In fact, we make only 63 cents for every dollar a White man makes.
This has to change.
In our guide, we suggest economic policies that could put more money in our pockets, like substantially raising the minimum wage and engaging in progressive tax reform. Your publication, The Road to Zero Wealth, is an important resource and provides much more detail on these and other policies that would improve our ability to build assets.
JP: What kind of impact are you looking to have with BlackHer?
JH: Our goal at BlackHer is to put Black women in the “center of the miracle,” by creating a space for us to get educated and organized and take action for progressive change.
Every week, we share original articles with our readers to provide them with information they need to be politically informed and engaged. We also highlight amazing Black women who have a keen focus on creating structural change for Black women. Some of our BlackHer “sheroes” include Aimee Allison, president of Democracy in Color; Maya Rockeymoore, president of Global Policy Solutions; and, Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of The Collective.
We have big ambitions for Black women and BlackHer! In addition to taking charge of our own narrative and get educated regarding the structural changes needed to help us thrive, we aim to create a Black women’s lobby to rival the NRA in political capital and clout.
There are 24 million Black women in the U.S. Although, we are way behind in access to wealth, according to Nielsen, our spending power is nearing $1.5T. If (and when!) we pool our resources and come together around a shared political agenda, we can truly be the change we seek!