After Roy Moore, the disgraced Alabama judge, lost his Senate bid in 2017, a white woman hugged me.
“We’re hugging black women — thank you for saving us,” she chirped. By “us,” she meant America; by America, she likely meant white people.
I did not know this woman well enough for her to physically thank me for something I had nothing to do with. I was not among the 98 percent of black Alabama women who ensured Moore’s defeat, and allowed Doug Jones to become that state’s first Democratic senator in two decades.
No matter. She was intent on making this condescending gesture of mawkish gratitude. All I could think was, “I am not your savior.”
This strange event came back to me when I saw a recent headline about the 2020 presidential campaign in last Sunday’s Globe: “Will black women save us . . . again?” Before I finished the sentence, I already knew my answer.
Black women are not here to save America. We are not a safety net designed to catch this nation when it willingly plunges off the cliff. When black women go to the polls — and we do so more reliably for Democrats than any other demographic group — we are our own saviors. It’s why 96 percent of us voted for Hillary Clinton, and against the unvarnished racism and misogyny of Donald Trump.
And that’s why black women will again vote overwhelmingly to get Trump out of the White House next year.
Meanwhile, you might have heard that 52 percent of white women voted for Trump in 2016. (And 63 percent thought Moore, an accused sexual predator, would make a fine senator.)
It’s endemic to white America to sit back and expect black women to do the heavy lifting in this country, especially in leading the charge against social injustice. We do so out of the proven knowledge that few others will do it for us. It’s not the result of some mystical strength (another variation on the “magic Negro,” an old Hollywood trope); it’s about ensuring our own survival.
In her seminal 1981 book about black women and feminism, “Ain’t I a Woman,” bell hooks wrote, “Usually, when people talk about the ‘strength’ of black women they are referring to the way in which they perceive black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation. The tendency to romanticize the black female experience that began in the feminist movement was reflected in the culture as a whole.”
That romanticization now includes the expectation that black women voters will protect America from its worst impulses.
I wasn’t there, but I can guarantee that saving white people was not on the minds of the more than 1,000 people, mostly women of color, who met in Houston last month for the inaugural She the People Presidential Forum. Eight of the Democratic candidates attended — Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar; Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former representative Beto O’Rourke, and Julian Castro, former housing and urban development secretary during the Obama administration. (Former vice president Joe Biden had yet to officially enter the race.)
Some candidates soared above others, but for all of them, the overriding message had better be clear: the road to the nomination will be decided by black women, in the interests of black women.
Malcolm X once called the black woman the most “disrespected,” “unprotected,” and “neglected” person in America. More than 50 years later, there are still no lies detected. It’s not respect to call black women saviors of America’s political chastity. All that does is shift the responsibility of preserving this nation’s moral conscience to those who have always been routinely disparaged and disregarded. Our worth cannot be measured in how it best serves white people who would rather hug black women than listen to or learn from them.
We aren’t maids charged with cleaning up America’s political messes.
We aren’t maids charged with cleaning up America’s political messes. Besides, such work is above our pay grade. With black women making an average 61 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, we can only afford to save ourselves.Renée Graham can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.