Sen. Kamala Harris made headlines when she pronounced and acknowledged the important role of Black women in both casting their ballots for Joe Biden—thus earning him the title “president-elect”—and also serving as “the backbone of our democracy” during her first speech as vice president-elect.
Yes, Black women’s seemingly unwavering support for Democrats favors the political party time and again. But it’s important to acknowledge where much of this support stems from.
“Black women aren’t just voting to save the party for the party’s sake,” said Sally Nuamah, Ph.D., a professor of Urban Politics at Northwestern University. “They actually don’t have a lot of other choices. We are in a two-party system and we have a Republican Party that, for example, will put the Voting Rights Act on the table. And we know that Black women, unlike white women, weren’t able to vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed.”
And despite how engaged Black women are and how much they show up to the voting booth, those in power aren’t giving Black women the thanks and policy support they deserve for once again saving the Democratic Party. Professor Nuamah coined the term collective participatory debt (CPD) to describe the “extreme fatigue and disillusionment with the democratic process following repeated participation in it without a fair response.”
According to Nuamah, Black women aren’t just voting at higher rates, but they are also “participating in mutual aid and other civic activities at the highest rate, which means they’re engaging in a double burden. They’re working twice as hard in politics just as they are in life.”
“It would not be until Black women got together collectively and expressed their dismay with that decision that a similar kind of initiative was then created for women. When an initiative was created, it still wasn’t funded at the same rate,” said Nuamah. “Black women, when they get together, they get things done. It’s still the case, however, that the Democratic Party did not just give it to them; they had to demand it.”
And Black women’s demands are clear, especially when it comes to crime and punishment. Professor Nuamah’s research highlights the fact that Black women are the least punitive group of Americans, but are among those who are most punished.
“When you think about the 1994 crime bill, as well as the policies to imprison parents who were not making sure that their kids were truant, it’s clear that especially in the area of criminal justice, that there is an opportunity for both Biden and Harris to transgress their previous practices and build up more liberatory institutions that map on to what Black women want for themselves and for their families.”
Ultimately, if Democrats want to represent the interests of their most loyal constituents, it’s past time for them to acknowledge the nuanced needs of all Black women and consider the intersections of gender, sexuality, class, and immigration status to say the least.
“That means not assuming that what would be valuable for a person who has a pedigree like Kamala Harris is going to be freeing for all Black women,” Nuamah said. “I don’t think we can expect Black women to sustain this level of engagement without a response from [the] government.”
Watch in the video above as Professor Sally Nuamah goes into more detail about the relationship between Black women and the Democratic Party, breaks down why Black women need and deserve policy changes that champion their concerns, and explains where and how Black men fit into all of this.