How American Politics Constantly Neglects Black Women
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Brandon Bourdages
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Our political system is neglecting black women — and we can change it. No one is making this argument better than black women themselves. Women like Roxane Gay, Brittney Cooper and countless others have written powerfully and eloquently about the unique experience of being a black woman in America, and I would like to add my voice in solidarity. Because it’s important that black men publicly voice our support on these issues – not just in order to stand alongside our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends, but because it is the best thing for our nation.
A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) entitled, “ The State of African-American Women in the United States” highlights that the intersection of racial and gender disparities meets at the experience of black women. Despite this, in the last presidential election, they had the highest voter participation rate of any comparable group in the country.
Black women experience socioeconomic inequity more than anyone else, yet they vote more than all others (and almost always in favor of the Democratic candidate). There are two important implications in this reality. First, their policy concerns have gone largely unaddressed. Second, despite the evidence of the black electorate bellwether, there is little real effort by candidates to work hard for those votes. The Republican Party assumes it is unobtainable. The Democratic Party knows it can rely on overwhelming support from the black community because of precedent and, quite honestly, lack of a viable alternative.
These lead to the political alienation of black women. Their votes are taken for granted, and their most pressing socioeconomic concerns are unaddressed. This is not cool.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2011 found the issues that black women worry about most include employment/personal finances, healthcare, and crime. Exit polls from last month’s Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections show the same concerns. These issues presumably influence how and for whom black women vote. Yet, voting has not reaped the results they – indeed, the nation writ large – deserve.
The CAP report states that 1 in 4 black women are uninsured. This is a primary contributor to them facing such issues as higher cancer mortality rates, the highest incidence of hypertension, and black babies dying at 2.5 times the rate of white babies. Though a fully implemented Affordable Care Act will help black women get insurance, the increasing doctor shortage will still disproportionately complicate their ability to receive care.
In education, black women are underrepresented in college degrees, have the slowest increase in graduation rates among all women, and are the most severely underrepresented in technical fields. Recent government cutbacks and student loan eligibility changes have left black students scrambling. This has contributed to a financial crunch in many historically black colleges and universities, a primary grantor of college degrees. Black women are hit especially hard since they comprise 66 percent of African Americans graduating with bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s, and 65 percent of doctorates.
On the economic front, black women have a higher rate of unemployment than white women – a rate that actually rose in 2013. Black women’s income is less than all men and white women, and their poverty rate is the highest in the nation. The national response? Cutbacks on funding for social safety nets, elimination of national programs that could help close economic gaps, and policies that exacerbate income inequality.
With all this evidence that black women are being ignored, they have plenty with which to be displeased. But square in the face of the despicable “angry black woman” trope, the Washington-Kaiser poll reveals quite the opposite. Nearly 3 in 4 black women felt it was a good time to be a black woman in America, and 85 percent report that they are satisfied with their lives as a whole.