The Republican Party boasts a number of firsts when it comes to Black people and electoral politics. The first Black members of Congress in both the House and Senate were Republicans. However, contemporary Republican efforts along these lines can be dismissed with the Janet Jackson question “What have you done for me lately?” When it comes to Black women and electoral politics, the Democratic Party has bragging rights. Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives. Her election occurred in 1968 and represented a new wave of Black Representatives as a derivative of the Voting Rights of 1965. Carol Moseley Braun was the first Black Woman to be elected to the Senate. Her election occurred in 1992 in conjunction with what has been called “The Year of the Woman.” The Year of the Woman coincided with the election of Bill Clinton to the Office of President. Both Chisholm and Braun were Democrats. Black women’s alignment with the Democratic Party has only grown since these elections.
Notable names that have left a mark on the American political system include Barbara Jordan, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, and Kamala Harris. Barbara Jordan is indelibly etched in the annals of political greatness based on her performance during the Watergate Hearings related to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Maxine Waters is an outspoken member of Congress who has been on the national scene since the 1992 L.A. Rebellion/Rodney King Riots. Currently she is functioning as a thorn in the side of the Trump Administration, which will not let the talk of impeachment die down. Barbara Lee was the lone Congressperson who voted against the authorization to use military force against Iraq. Congresswoman Lee recently was successful in amending the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Against Force Terrorism that U.S. Presidents were using to wage unending and expanded war.
Many Democratic strategists have been hurling recriminations as to why Hillary Clinton lost the Election of 2016. Some have attributed it to the Democrats’ failure to appeal to the white working class. Others argue that Hillary Clinton simply did not have a message. Bernie Sanders’s supporters or “Sandernistas” argue that Democrats are not progressive enough. Unfortunately, Sandernistas still seem to be in a Bernie or Bust mindset. Despite these assessments of the Democratic Party, one component of the Democratic coalition that has remained constant is the support from Black women. Black women’s support for Democrats and Hillary Clinton was more than 90 percent. By comparison, only close to 48 percent of white women voted for Hillary Clinton. Ironically, it has been argued that Black women seem to be benefiting the least from their unwavering support for Democrats.
Black women’s support for the Democratic Party raises a particular issue. What must Democrats do in order to hold on to this invaluable component of the Democratic Party? It is at this juncture that Senator Kamala Harris steps on to the national political scene. Senator Harris is a freshman Senator from California where she held statewide office as the state’s Attorney General. In looking toward the 2020 presidential race, the name of Kamala Harris has been one of the main names that is floated as a potential presidential candidate. Although Senator Harris is extremely qualified to be President, she is already getting push back from Sandernistas on the left and the alt-right.
Contrary to popular belief, the Democrats have a message. The Democrats have excellent candidates to deliver that message and win on that message. What Democrats need is courage to play to their strengths and not apologize for having a progressive program and well thought out plans for governing as opposed to race baiting xenophobic rhetoric that satisfies low information nationalistic fervor. The Democrats need to recognize the strength of Black women within their ranks and place this constituency concerns front and center. Democrats will be quick to realize that this is the path to success. Moreover, Kamala Harris should be given the proper consideration that a person of her stature demands. After all, ain’t she too a woman?
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”