“Not Going to Lie Down and Take It”: Black Women are Being Overlooked by This President
Photo Credit: My Hobo Soul/Flickr
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On Monday, the White House announced a new executive order that will bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This order culminates years of advocacy from those on the front lines of the gay rights struggle to get this president to use the force of his office to reduce discriminatory conditions and processes for LGBTQ people. It is also clear that this administrative shift is part of his very explicit attempt to begin crafting his legacy as the outgoing president.
Alongside the Affordable Care Act, My Brother’s Keeper and federal support for robust immigration reform, President Obama continues to roll out a set of initiatives that firmly appeal to the demographics most responsible for his ascent to the White House. Even though I celebrate this signal move on behalf of the Obama administration and urge that the U.S. Congress follow suit and pass federal legislation outlawing discrimination against LGBTQ people, I remain unclear about how to judge the legacy that Obama is building with respect to solidly liberal issues.
Recent advocacy through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, expanded clemency opportunities for low-level drug offenders and raising the federal minimum wage suggest explicit attention to the plight of working-class people and men and boys of color. There are also guidelines within the rollout of My Brother’s Keeper to address the especial concerns of gay and trans men and boys of color.
However, there seems to be very little on the horizon for one key demographic: black women and girls. Though the administration could stand to address all women and girls of color, the call earlier this spring for his administration to review its own deportation policies could at least minimally and explicitly begin to ameliorate some of the devastation to Latino families caused by the inordinate amount of deportations presided over by this administration.
However, black women, Obama’s single largest voting demographic, have been the subject of no executive orders, no White House initiatives and no pieces of progressive legislation. Ninety-six percent of black women voters voted for Obama compared to 87 percent of black men. Seventy-six percent of Latinas voted for the president compared to 65 percent of Latino men.
Though black and other women of color who are a part of the LGBTQ community will benefit from this latest executive order, no initiative has explicitly addressed the structural issues of racism, classism, poor education, heavy policing and sexual and domestic violence that disproportionately affect black and Latina women.
As a black woman who voted twice for this president, despite some misgivings, I find myself wondering how we will fit into the legacy of progressive policy initiatives that the president is trying to craft as part of his exit strategy.
This kind of conflict seems to be representative of the political moment in which we find ourselves. I remember feeling conflicted in this way when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act) in the same cycle that it gutted the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But with the Supreme Court’s unrepentant band of rabid conservatives, I’m not surprised.
I am surprised, however, that a man who lives in the White House with four black women feels no allegiance at the level of policy or legacy to the one demographic that is most singularly responsible for his two terms in the White House. I am both disappointed and disgusted that in President Obama’s political vision, all the blacks are men.
Twenty five years ago, UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as a way to help us think about how black women were uniquely disadvantaged by employment discrimination laws that could remedy discrimination against women or discrimination against black people, but could not remedy discrimination against black women as an intersecting category. For instance, if a company singled out black women, but not all women, or not all blacks, then black women were simply out of luck in terms of having legal protection. Getting at this concept has been so critically important because anti-workplace discrimination laws have been the centerpiece in terms of how the U.S. has historically counteracted the effects of racism, sexism and homophobia against marginalized groups.