News & Politics

In Alabama, Black Women Saved America From Itself—as They've Always Tried to Do

African-American women came out in droves and voted 98% against Roy Moore, preventing what could have been a huge wrong.

Photo Credit: Burlingham / Shutterstock

Black women have been trying to save America from itself for generations. So the breakdown of who voted in Alabama’s Senate election this week come as no surprise. Since as far back as the 19th century, African American women have been fighting for civil rights; they have always been front and centre in terms of mobilising support for equality and justice. Though it would not be surprising if you’ve never heard their stories – by and large black female trailblazers have tended to be erased from history.

But that marginalisation has never stopped their continued fight for justice and equality. In Alabama, 98% of them voted against Roy Moore, a man who – among other things – is accused of assaulting teenage girls. And yet 63% of white women voted for a man accused of such things. But there’s form here. Despite allegations of sexual impropriety against Donald Trump during the 2016 election race, 53% of white women voted for him to become president, compared to 3% of black women.

So the figures reflect that in Alabama, overwhelming numbers of white American women opened their arms to an alleged paedophile and gave him their votes. Whereas those black women in Alabama voted for change for their families and themselves in a part of America that has huge numbers of people in poverty (nationally, more than 28% of African-American women live in poverty – higher than the corresponding figures for white or Hispanic women). And to keep out of office a man whose list of alleged sexual misdemeanours is ever growing.

African-American men did that, too. Exit polls show that 6% of black men voted for Moore – compared to 72% of white men.

But it’s African-American women who have largely been ignored in history. It’s their political power that tends to be ignored, and the feminist movement tends to erase. Figures such as Sojourner TruthIda B Wells-Barnett and Mary McLeod Bethune fought for so much, and yet are heard of so little.

What is surprising though is that in the era of the #MeToo movement, white women in Alabama didn’t see the accusations of underage sexual conduct as enough of a reason not to put someone in office. In fact I watched one woman defend her choice with these words: “I’m sure God had forgiven him [Moore] so I forgive him too and will vote for him. Who am I to go against God?”

History will not look favourably on this era in America. In the midst of all this you’ve got black women who are trying to raise families in higher levels of poverty and amid nearly double the unemployment rates of white women. That strength and resilience reminds me of a Malcolm X speech – which Beyoncé actually sampled on her album Lemonade: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. / The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. / The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

Some African-American women would argue that not much has changed since that speech in 1962. But despite being disrespected, unprotected and neglected, they came out in their droves and righted what could have been a huge wrong.

 

Charlene Denise White is a British broadcast journalist who works for ITN.