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Why Black Women Should Vote Now More Than Ever

We need to use our power to be the change we want to see.

Politics

The start of 2020 brought more than setting intentions and crushing goals. It brought on the most important election season of our time. As soon as the high of a new year wore off, the candidates turned up the heat on campaign ads, commercials, debates, and caucuses.

We launched into the throws of issues and policies so fast that it could make your head spin. To make things even more complex, candidates started dropping out of the Democratic race just as soon as you learned who they were. It's enough to drive you crazy, but it is too important to ignore. I don't know about you, but all of this sparked questions for me like:

  • "Where does this candidate stand on gun control?"
  • "Whose policy works better for eliminating student loan debt?"
  • "Which candidate is going to address black women dying at an increased rate during childbirth?"
  • "Who is willing to approach immigration with a reasonable solution?"

I felt overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.

At this point, the best thing to do is create a strategy and research the issues important to you as much as possible.

You don't want to get up on Election Day and walk into the voter's booth (or whatever the social distancing alternative of that is) clueless about candidates' platforms. Even worse is avoiding action in exercising your right to vote at all. It's a very powerful asset of your citizenship to the country, and it should be exercised with as much knowledge as possible. If we learned anything from the 2016 presidential elections, black women have been tasked, whether we want it or not, with the responsibility to save the election and the country.

Since we know we get out and vote, we need to use that power to encourage others to vote as well.

One voice that has risen above all the others, especially for black millennial women, is that of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). She has become the Auntie we've all needed, with a voice that unapologetically tells it like it is. Earlier this year, around the time of the State of the Union address, Rep. Waters hosted a media row for millennial outlets to come and meet with Democratic representatives to ask the questions that matter most to us. Rep. Waters is on a mission to get young people as involved in politics on all levels as possible. She sees the need to have us in the room to affect change for future generations. Essentially, Rep. Waters is creating room at the table for millennials and we are here for it.

Here are a few quotes from members of Congress on what black millennials should consider as the 2020 presidential election approaches:

Rep. Al Green (D-AL) on the importance of voting and being prepared on Election Day:

Image via Congress.gov

"I'm a 'senior millennial.' But voting is very important for all of us because it's a participatory democracy and that means every person of age can participate to vote. One of the things that we have to do is assure our friends and our neighbors that their vote will count. That's something that we in Congress have to take up as an issue. We have to educate our people and let them know that if you were going to have to have this birth certificate, let's start early.

"Let's not wait until Election Day to try to go out and apply for the things necessary to vote because you can vote with a provisional ballot in some states.

"I tried that in Texas, went there to vote without my ID so that I could test the system, and as a part of testing the system, I had to get a birth certificate so that I could get the state-issued ID. I sent off for the birth certificate some years ago and I still don't have it. I'm from Louisiana and I was trying to vote in Texas. Texas requires that you have that birth certificate with a photo ID.

"It's also very important for us to register people who are not registered to vote. For the people that are registered to vote, but they're not, we need not embarrass people, we need not say things to them about the things that they should have done and haven't done. Let's take a positive approach and give everybody the opportunity. Every vote will count."

Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) on black women millennials taking the lead in voting:

Image via Congress.gov

"I look at black women like I look at good quarterbacks on the field. Good quarterbacks have to have the ability to see the entire field. They know where all the players are, they know what everybody's doing, they know the strengths and the weaknesses and then we strategically make the decision, right?

"We keep up with everybody, and it does not surprise me that when we look at voting, that commitment doesn't surprise me--that black women lead the pack--and being the most reliable voters because we understand the consequences. When we have good leaders, great things happen.

"Bad decisions impact African-American communities and families more than anybody else. And so black women, when we lead, when we speak, people listen. When we lead, people follow. We've got it. We are not going to be denied. And I think if we are serious about turning this country around, then black women have to be at the table because we have the ability to see the field differently."

On black women millennials taking their place in government positions:

"We are now in the boardroom, we're on the sidelines as sportscasters--we're doing it all. We will not be denied. And I will say this: Know your power. I think one of the biggest fears is that we will know our power. Because you know there's that self-talk: You're not the right color, you don't have the right name, you don't know the right people, all of that stuff. But what about the negative self-talk we sometimes do to ourselves? I'm not smart enough. I'm not bright enough. I don't know the right people. I need to wait my turn. What does that mean? Or I need to pay my dues. What does that mean? We have to learn to just take the lead because when we look at the state of our country right now, we need young, sharp, smart, fearless black women."

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) on using your uniqueness as an advantage, not a hindrance:

Image via Congress.gov

"We (the Virgin Islands) and Haiti are the only two places in the Caribbean that have won our freedom through violence. And so that kind of informs how we act. But I think the other thing personally that causes me to be the way I am is that I've always kind of been an outsider. I've always felt like kind of an outsider, but someone who still needs to lead.

"At Choate [Rosemary Hall], I was president of my class for three years, and I just feel like, although you may be an outsider, you have a lot to offer. And you can circulate in a way that others can't. I think I've tried to do that here in Congress. And that's really how I've tried to operate. I've tried to get a lot done in a little bit of time.

"So just remember, as we forge ahead through this political landscape, your voice matters---you matter. Your vote matters even more, and it is your right to be a part of this process. The issues affecting our community need to be lifted up and heard, and black women have that power. It is up to us to be the leaders and the change-makers that we need. When you go to vote this year, keep in mind your core values and select the best candidate that aligns with those things. If you want your voice to be further amplified, call your local government officials, question them, and make yourself known. We are powerful and can change the world."

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Featured image by Mary Long/Shutterstock

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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