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Updated: Jan 11, 2021

“Black women have been the wheels on the Democratic bus for a long time, but will we ever sit in the driver's seat?” - Kimberlé Crenshaw 

On August 20th, the African American Policy Forum hosted a special event entitled From the Base to the Face: Kamala Harris, Black Women, & Misogynoir in the 2020 Election.” With the history-making vice presidential candidacy of Kamala Harris at the Democratic National Convention, Black women are newly centered in politics and media. AAPF used this moment to call forward and bring together a group of phenomenal Black women and uplift their insight by discussing politics, the 2020 election, Kamala Harris' historic run, and the intersections of race and gender playing out in the Presidential campaign.

Joined by a panel of powerhouse women, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Barbara Arnwine, Donna Brazile, Kirsten West Savali, and State Attorney Kim Foxx, AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw, kicks off the segment by identifying the ways in which the Democratic Party turns on its most loyal constituency, black women - making space for a discussion on how our future may unfold with a Black female vice presidential nominee. She asks: Black women have been the wheels on the Democratic bus for a long time, but will we ever sit in the driver's seat? 

Donna Brazile expands on this attitude, echoing the power of Black women who are still made invisible in politics. She outlines Kamala Harris’ growing responsibilities as our vice presidential nominee: introduce more Black women into politics, uplift Black women’s voices and demands on political platforms, and use her unique background to share who she is, what she stands for and what she hopes to accomplish. Brazile identifies this moment as particularly important because we’ve already seen the media attempt to pigeonhole Harris based on vile racist and gendered stereotypes. In response, Brazile finds it essential that Harris shape a new narrative for Black women in politics.  

Kirsten West Savali shares this sentiment, expanding that what we miss from the Democratic National Convention speeches by white women and white men is the nuance, texture and contours around race and racism that only Black women would bring to the table. She believes that if Black women must be able to hold space in the national imagination and national reality in order to discuss the wants and needs of the Black community - if Black women don’t contextualize it, then no one will. Savali affirms that “we can’t start in the middle of the story and pretend that we’re telling the facts,” encouraging Black women to share their stories and histories and recognize their right to be ambitious and tto stand in full power and say what needs to be said. 

Building off this idea State Attorney Foxx transforms the recognition of Black girl magic into a call for social and political mobilization. She reminds us that 79% of elected prosecutors are white male, 16% are white women, 4% are men of color and less than 1% are women of color. Drawing on Kamala Harris’ statement “there is no vaccine for racism,” State Attorney Foxx illustrates the ways racism harms our bodies through misogyny, misogynoir and the critical and tactical language used in the media surrounding Kamala Harris. In the face of erasure, State Attorney Foxx shares, “there is an instinct to call [Black women’s work] ‘magical,’ what we do, this isn’t magic at all. It is surviving and thriving despite the hocus-pocus of trying to disappear us. [But,] we weren’t disappeared.” 

Barbara Arnwine expands on the pattern of Black woman othering, promoting an urgency to lean into conversations that center Black women. She finds that “what is at stake here is not just the image of Harris, it’s the othering of all of us.” She touches on the commercialization of Black womanism and the harms of voter suppression, tropes we must fight against --  identifying racist and sexist anti-Harris critique as methods of discouraging political engagement. 

In thinking about this historic political moment, Representative Maxine Waters pulls from her own experiences of suppression and erasure in politics, outlining a plan for how Black women should combat misogynoir. She emphasizes the importance of Black women’s engagement in politics and the uplifting Black women’s voices. Representative Waters stresses the necessity of resistance against societal norms devised to silence Black women; rather we must be helpful to the democratic nominees and confront racism and misogynoir, but on our own terms. 

From this conversation comes many essential takeaways in the midst of this historical presidential campaign. Building on Shirley Chisholm’s powerful statement: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” State Attorney Foxx empowers us to recognize that we must not only sit at the table but we must “set the menu.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw leaves us with a final gem of wisdom: “it’s just not enough for us to celebrate the symbolic dimensions of this nomination. We've got to fully address the status of Black women in the country and the party and throughout electoral politics. So if we don't claim this moment, if we don't counter galvanize against all of this mainstream [criticism, racism, and racism] that's going on that would make her candidacy nothing more than symbolic, then this might be a moment that we could lose. We're determined not to lose it.”

You can watch a replay of the event on YouTube (here). 

Until next time… 

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