Let’s Get it Right This Time: Elect More Black Women
Today, the nation is finally recognizing the leadership and power of Black women. With the first Black woman as a Vice Presidential nominee for a major political party, we have finally broken the shackles that have held us back. Black women have consistently shown up to the polls, using their vote as their voice in the democratic process — and now, America is taking notice.
But, this wasn’t always the case. This year, we commemorate 100 years of women voting after the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Yet, many forget that it wasn’t until 1965, when most Black women could participate in our electoral process, even after centuries of working for equality. We have fought for the most basic right to vote, and we are still far from being the ideal democracy.
Sadly, it is far too easy to become accustomed to laws and norms that curtail our rights, and become practices we adopt, we learn, and we even teach. It’s also easy to forget our history, especially when situations seem foreign compared to our present reality.
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, in 1868 and 1877, Louisiana had a Black Governor and three Black Lieutenant Governors. However, the end of Reconstruction in 1877 also meant the end of protection for Black voters in the South and the beginning of racially fueled voter suppression. There has not been a Black person elected to any statewide office in Louisiana since the Reconstruction era despite the number of African Americans in the state.
The founding of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, a leading women’s service organization of which we are both proud members, was a revolutionary act. Zeta was founded in 1920 by five young Black women at Howard University in the midst of sanctioned segregation, lynching, and rampant discrimination against women. The early members dared to establish a sisterhood dedicated to service, scholarship and finer womanhood, and focused on early expansion in Southern states. To this day, our members are registering and educating voters to ensure everyone can participate in our democracy, because we understand what our foremothers did to get us to this point.
Research by the Reflective Democracy Campaign on the demographics of elected officials in the United States found White men hold a majority of positions at all levels of government. Studies show that policy improves when the leadership is diverse. As Black women who have spent decades serving and advocating for our communities, most would agree that we have a unique perspective that is not always represented in a majority White male legislature.
Black women deserve better.
Recently, our sorority released “In Our Voices,” a research study that identifies the critical issues that matter most to Black women. More than half of Black women stated that one’s financial stability has the greatest impact on long-term success. They said that COVID-19 has increased their anxiety and stress as they struggle to pay bills and save money for an uncertain future.
It is for these reasons, each year, we both co-sponsor the Louisiana Equal Pay Act, which would require equal pay for equal work for men and women. Black women are paid 48 cents for every one dollar earned by white men in Louisiana, which is lower than White and Latina women. This economic disparity has lasting effects in the Black community, including the inability to purchase safe affordable housing, lack of access to quality childcare, and less time with our families due to additional work hours.
Black women have been leading behind the scenes for centuries. Passing the 19th amendment and the Civil Rights Act were critical steps; however, the success of our democracy over the next 100 years depends on how we engage all members of our communities. We demand that the next 100 years be very different.
Let’s get it right this time, and do more to elect Black women in all areas of civic life.
Representative Barbara West Carpenter, Louisiana State House of Representatives, District 63; and 21st International President, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Senator Regina Ashford Barrow, Louisiana State Senate, District 15; and Honorary Member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.