There’s a thin line between celebration and the kind of deification that can veer into a sort of dehumanization, and too many people seem to cross it when it comes to Black women.
In the wake of Rev. Raphael Warnock’s history-making election to the Senate and Jon Ossoff’s anticipated victory in his own race, accolades have rightfully come in for the Black women organizers in Georgia—Stacey Abrams most well known among them, but also LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter, Nsé Ufot of New Georgia Project, and many more—for the feat of turning Georgia blue for the first time since 1992.
Abrams, after a loss to Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race that was suspiciously plagued by voter suppression, rolled up her sleeves and did the damn thing with her voting rights group Fair Fight—registering and activating enough Black voters in the southern State to crack Republicans’ control of the Senate.
But immediately after the results of Tuesday’s runoff election started coming in, so did the over-the-top comments—mostly, but not solely, from white liberals on Twitter—suggesting that Abrams’ hard work to organize a historically disenfranchised people and get them to the polls is evidence of some sort of “superpower” that means she’s ready to take on all the things that trouble America.
Some have called for her to take over distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine (though Trevor Noah was likely humorously highlighting just how much of a mess that situation has become). Others have credited her with saving the nation and compared her to Captain America. Others still are making strange and disturbing sexual comments about Abrams, including saying they want to have her babies. And on Wednesday morning, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer posted a picture of Abrams depicted on a prayer candle.
In the words of Nene Leakes: It’s getting weird.
It’s also par for the course for how much of this country is accustomed to treating Black women—as mules, by ascribing us jobs we haven’t even asked for, not even a little bit, after watching us tote a heavy burden; as objects to project sexual fantasies on rather than women with agency who deserve to be spoken about with respect; or as some sort of mythical saviors who can be called upon to save everyone who needs it. Across the board, these kinds of narratives serve the purpose of chipping away at Black women’s humanity—though misguided and often facetious, people like to claim the ridiculousness as compliments that we should happily accept.
Abrams herself pushed back on this kind objectification after Biden’s win in Georgia prompted much of that “Black women will save us” refrain that has become so popular, telling the New York Times, “I chafe at this idea that we then objectify one group as both savior and as responsible party.”
It’s offensive too, especially since Black women so often lead the charge on behalf of our people and our communities because we need to save ourselves, knowing that no one else is coming to do so. And in fighting to lift ourselves up, everyone else inevitably benefits. But to observe this phenomenon and leave with the idea that Black women happily exist to rescue everyone and are ready and willing to do it in every sphere of life, is a tacit agreement with the long-outdated state of affairs where we serve the needs of people who never return the favor—and in fact are cool with keeping us under the boot of marginalization and outright oppression outside of when they need us to pull them from the burning house they built. It’s telling that “Save Black Women” has never caught on as powerfully as any of the other slogans.
Instead of singling out Abrams as some kind of god here to single-handedly save white America from the consequences of its addiction to white supremacy, I implore us all to instead recognize her as a woman with a vision that she defined and fearlessly followed. The response to that impressive hard work should include acknowledgement and even celebration, yes, but also a necessary building on the vision she has so excellently laid the groundwork for.
That means protecting voting rights for Black Americans whose ability to make their voice heard at the ballot box continues to be curtailed. And it means listening to those voices in the first place and, importantly, showing up for them too—not just lavishing Black women like Abrams with platitudes that come with more duties of your choosing, as if they are at your beck and call.