Over the last year, I have had an awakening. Not the kind of awakening one gets when they look back on the last 40 years of their lives and wonder if they have done anything meaningful…I had that one. Not the one where they realize that they could very well have lived half or more than half of their life already…I had that one too. But the one where as a Black woman who has lived in integrated environments for her entire life, starts to really question how white people see me, and other Black women.
I serve on the board of PAC which elects women to office. I have been actively involved in politics for the last 20 years and have thoroughly enjoyed my work in this space. As many organizations do, and as “we” (minorities) have encouraged them to do, the PAC discussed the importance of diversifying (in all aspects, not just race) our board. Since we support all women, the board members felt it was critical that the board reflect the diversity of women in Virginia. I eagerly sent messages via Facebook and email to the women in my circles about the board openings. I simultaneously announced board openings with my foundation which supports Black candidates and leaders, and of the almost 10 people who responded, only one showed an interest of serving on the PAC board. While there may have been many reasons for the unbalanced interest, I wondered whether it might be due to race.
Then I started to think about what I was asking these respondents to do. Those who responded were Black. The PAC, while it supports all women, has a board of primarily white, progressive, prochoice, Democratic women. Any volunteer activity requires extra unpaid time to devote your energy, after work, in between shuttling kids and cooking dinner, possibly after caregiving responsibilities for parents or in laws, and most likely after their other already full social and volunteer responsibilities.
Additionally, while I saw it as asking Black women to serve alongside white women, supporting the “women’s” movement, the movement has not been as inclusive as it could have been, and frankly, has been seen more as a “white women’s” movement for “white women’s rights”.
Black and white women have had an interesting relationship since the first Africans were brought to the shores of North America. Slavery created a caustic dynamic of which the effects can still be felt today. I wanted to explore how those relationships were playing out today, in the height of the #MeToo movement, coined by a Black woman, but what we see in the news media appeared to be mainly white accusers. In the midst of #BlackWomenLead and #FollowtheBlackWomen in the wake of the Doug Jones US Senate victory in Alabama, which evinced the power of the Black women’s vote and our potential to decide many of the challenging policy issues we face today. (At a time when it just so happens that the Republican Democrat split in the Senate is 51-49.)
I conducted a series of focus groups with Black and white women to discuss a number of issues that I had personally experienced and observed throughout my life. Questions included:
- What role do Black and White men play in the relationships between Black and White women?
- What role do you feel hair plays with interactions between Black and White women?
- How have your parents spoken to you about women of the other race? (Whether you overheard conversations, or were speaking with them directly.)
- What are your thoughts? How would you answer these questions? What examples do you have of white and Black women working together for common advocacy goals? Do you believe Black and white women should work together for common advocacy and political goals?