Hello, Democrats, and Happy Black History month!
We’ve made a point in this country of officially celebrating black achievement and excellence throughout the month of February since 1976. But, as Democrats, we should really be celebrating black folks all twelve months of the year. Why is that, you ask? Well, despite the difficulties faced by black voters, they have historically turned out to vote, and they overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
As a rule, black folks don’t vote against their own interests. This gets proven time and again with every single election. Don’t forget, it was black people — and especially black women — who turned out to vote in the Senate race in Alabama last December, and we showed up and showed out in the 2016 presidential election as well, supporting the Democratic candidate in both races. We get called the backbone of the Democratic Party — a lot; most notably and recently by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez — and no truer words have ever been spoken. This is even more impressive when you consider the widespread voter suppression designed specifically to target communities of color. Gerrymandering, the loss of vital parts of the Voting Rights Act, strict voter ID laws, and disenfranchisement after felony convictions all play a part in making sure black people never make it to the ballot box.
And yet, many of us still do.
Did you enjoy watching Ralph Northam win the governorship in Virginia last November?
Thank black voters.
Did you breathe a sigh of relief when Doug Jones narrowly won over Roy Moore in Alabama?
Thank black voters, black women specifically, who we all know are magic.
Were you disappointed when trump won in 2016?
Well, guess who handled their collective business? If you guessed black voters, you win a prize.
We show up, and we vote democrat. So, why aren’t we regularly placed in positions of leadership? Why aren’t our issues valued across the board? Why is everyone ready to clap black women on the back for the Doug Jones victory, but disappear the instant we assert that Black Lives Matter?
What I’m suggesting is not to briefly sanctify us after every election because 98% of us voted against a child predator last December and 95% of us voted for Clinton in 2016 while 64% of white women instead voted for a train wreck. Don’t put us on a pedestal and then forget us until the next time you need us to turn out to vote. Valuing us means investing in our lives and our experiences, even in off years, even outside of the month of February. It means not recoiling or closing ranks when we attempt to take a seat at the table. It means practicing what you preach if what you preach is equality for all.
I’ve spent the last year and a half traveling almost exclusively in progressive circles. And I’ve been surprised and saddened to see how little diversity there is in many of our local groups. Contrary to popular belief, diversity doesn’t just mean looking out into a crowd and seeing a black or a brown face. It doesn’t just mean including us in pictures. It means seeing people of color in positions of leadership. It means valuing black lives and standing behind us in solidarity when we take center stage to demand equal treatment, not ushering us backstage to play a supporting role, as we’ve done since before the birth of this nation.
We’ve done a lot of desperate soul searching as a party since the devastating loss in 2016. We’ve struggled to regain our footing while simultaneously trying to figure out what happened and where everything went horribly wrong. But instead of looking behind us, we should instead focus on what’s ahead.
I submit that the answer to the question of how to win future elections lies in truly embracing equality across the Democratic Party’s platform, and that means understanding and appreciating a concept called intersectionality. I’m sure you’ve heard this term before, because it’s a buzzword that gets thrown around a great deal all of a sudden, but rarely seems to be understood.
Truly welcoming marginalized communities into the fold is the key to winning elections. We have to understand and acknowledge that inequalities based on race, class, sex, disability, gender identity, and sexual preference often intersect to increase injustice for many among us, and those voices need to be heard and valued. Not just in the month of February or during National Hispanic Heritage Month or National Pride Month or during an important election year.
Those of us who face daily discrimination on multiple fronts should be encouraged to speak, to run for office, to spearhead initiatives that will help other people who look like us. We aren’t window dressing for the Democratic Party. We are the Democratic Party. We aren’t easily swayed by artifice or tactics reminiscent of snake oil salesmen blowing through town every four years. There is power in our self-possession, our unending loyalty, our love of family, our courage to stand up in the face of widespread discrimination, and our deep reverence for this country.
We keep coming back to the Democratic Party. We aren’t showing up to the ballot box to save White America, as the news outlets reporting the Doug Jones victory would have you believe. We’re showing up to save ourselves the only way we know how — by choosing the candidate who most closely represents our interests and our values. For many of us, this is life and death, the difference between prosperity and ruin.
So, as Black History Month 2018 comes to a close, don’t let that be the end of your appreciation of black excellence and achievement. When you look around you and see no POCs in positions of leadership, ask yourself why that is. Step back when voices that don’t mirror your own are speaking, and truly listen. Instead of momentarily holding black people up after elections, try supporting them as they run for office or champion their issues. The Democratic Party will thrive when diverse voices are appreciated, encouraged, and heard. Black History is American History and American History is Black History. Our successes and failures are intertwined with your own, our futures irreversibly bound, and none of us is free until we all are.
**This is adapted from a speech I gave to my local Democratic Party