At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

“Covering politics in the coming year should mean covering black women — the majority of who we mean when we say “black voters.” It will require rethinking who we mean when we say ‘working mothers,’ ‘college-educated women,’ ‘millennials,’ and ‘values voters.'”

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, much of the focus was on the political actions of white women, including the 53 percent who supported Donald Trump and the millions more who made up the majority of the attendees at the largest single-day demonstration in America’s history. In reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s failed bid to become our country’s first woman president, what was lost was the narrative of the women who did show up to support her — specifically, black women.

This is not surprising. Black women are the most loyal and consistent voting bloc in the Democratic Party. They are also, arguably, the most neglected. A recent report on The Status of Black Women in the United States found that black women remain underrepresented at every level of state and political office, despite their role as super voters.

In key elections in 2017, black women again made their voices heard as candidates and voters, scoring victories in Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans, Virginia, and Alabama — a trend that will likely continue headed into the 2018 midterms.

So when are political journalists going to start listening?

Covering politics in the coming year should mean covering black women — the majority of who we mean when we say “black voters.” It will require rethinking who we mean when we say “working mothers,” “college-educated women,” “millennials,” and “values voters.”

The upcoming election season provides an ideal opportunity to turn a spotlight on black voters generally, and black women in particular. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968. California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris is being discussed as a 2020 presidential contender. Also in 2020, the country will mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote even as black women faced discrimination in their fight for the franchise.

For proof of why the black vote matters, journalists need look no further than December’s special election in Alabama to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a state known as a Republican stronghold, turnout among black voters was higher than in 2008 and 2012 for President Barack Obama — shattering the narrative that black voters are less organized and energized than when the first black president was on the ballot.

Such a galvanized group of voters seems worthy of the attention of the press. Exploring their concerns and issues and framing them as part of the American electorate isn’t just a logical choice for the political class. It’s smart journalism.

Errin Haines Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity.

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