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Guest Post: As We Fight For Voting Rights, We Must Also Fight For Black Women's Civic Health

It is no secret that Black women are one of the most essential voting blocks in our democracy. [1] Whether it's grassroots voter registration drives, managing campaigns, or running for office themselves, it is clear that Black women are worth the acknowledgments of “saving the country” time and time again. Most recently, these women have pushed through a global pandemic, historic, yet familiar attempts to block their vote and plenty of other obstacles to again prove their value to our political systems. Even with this in mind, there is little to no collective investment to help study Black women and their relationships to politics, voting, and democracy overall.[2] There is also a limited understanding of how Black women feel about their own civic engagement tactics and policy demands they believe could help improve outcomes for black women. This is why Black Girls Vote and the National Conference on Citizenship have teamed up to study the civic health of Black women!

The new report titled Black Women Did That: A Call to Invest in the Civic Health of Black Women in America “examines Black women’s impact and potential beyond elections, and calls for urgent investment in their civic health. The report uses various civic health metrics, including electoral and non-electoral civic participation, and provides a policy analysis rooted in BGV’s three advocacy areas of focus -- educational improvement, economic prosperity, and healthcare access. The survey data, collected and disaggregated by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), provides insight into how Black women’s civic health is foundational to American democracy.”[3]

According to the report, Black women had the highest voting percentage in local elections in 2018 (56.4%), highlighting their commitment to making their voices heard at all governmental levels. However, they tend to fall behind in non-electoral participation, such as providing campaign donations, attending school board meetings, or calling public officials. This could be because of the emphasis on the importance of voting that generally does not include the importance of ongoing advocacy.[4]Actions like contacting elected officials, attending events, and public meetings to advocate on such issues ignore that Black women may have other responsibilities, therefore, lack time to commit to these activities. Although they may fall behind others in non-electoral engagement, Black women prioritize political knowledge acquisition and dissemination. 71.5% of the women surveyed reported that they frequently read, watch, or listen to news about political, societal, or local issues. This could explain why politics has recently started emphasizing the importance of intersectionality [5] and why Black women are pursuing public office in record numbers. [6]

This report also calls for policy solutions that will help the outcomes of Black women. Danielle Miles-Langaigne, a report author said, “The civic participation of Black women and girls extends far beyond their ability to cast a vote or engage politically. Their capacity to fully contribute to civil society also rests on other matters, such as their level of access to quality health resources–or their likelihood of being excluded from educational spaces. It’s time that Black women and girls are fully heard and holistically seen by the systems they are constantly investing in.” Black women are one of the most active voting blocks in our country but are still severely underrepresented in political office[7]. Black women are pursuing higher education at higher percentages than other racial groups but are being crippled by student debt[8] more than anyone else. Black women pursue entrepreneurship at high rates[9] but are still collectively victims of the pay gap[10]. The report calls for better policies for Black women and girls in education, health care, and economic development:

■ Education: Implementing alternative disciplinary practices in schools, increasing research of the incidence and effects of the disproportionate punitive discipline of Black girls, and investing in Black women’s access to postsecondary education through federal funding.

■ Economic Development: Prioritizing Black businesses in the nation’s economic recovery plan, undertaking a federal compensation audit of all private and public employers, and creating employment pipeline programs for Black women.

■ Health care: Improving the health of Black women by addressing disproportionate maternal mortality and breast cancer rates, expanding Medicaid access at the state and federal level, increasing data collection and research of Black women’s experiences with health care systems, and addressing the social determinants of health.

Moving forward, civic engagement organizations must invest in Black women’s political leadership! Hoda Abdalla, report author states that “Black women have a long history of being at the forefront of civic engagement efforts in the United States, consistently advocating for better outcomes for their communities and fighting for the vote. This report reveals that it is time that they are not just thanked once every four years, but that America actually shows up for Black women in the way that Black women have consistently shown up for them. This means actually advocating for policies that address income and employment disparities, fatal health care outcomes, mounting student debt, and the many other disparities affecting Black women.” Quite frankly, this country owes Black women more than a thank you. It is past time that our nation does the hard work to address racism, sexism and classism, homophobia, and transphobia, which each target Black women in specific ways. Only then will Black women see the value of increasing their non-voting civic engagement.

In closing, Nykidra Robinson, founder and CEO of Black Girls Vote, stated that “Black women are often credited with saving this country, but are forgotten about when it comes to our broader contributions to democracy. We hope this report helps to illuminate that civic engagement for Black women is in everything we do and encourages those in positions of power to make the necessary policy changes to make the future better for generations of Black women to come. When Black women win, we all do.” It is time to acknowledge Black women's political power, provide the policies that will change outcomes for Black women and girls, and invest in Black women’s civic health. Our democracy depends on it.

Krystal Leaphart is a leader, advocate, and servant.

Twitter: @blackgirlsvote and @Krystallisms

Instagram: @blackgirlsvote and @krystallisms


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