If you really want Black women to “save you”, do us all a favor and save yourself.
Last night, America watched as Alabama held an election as to who would hold the Senate seat. In a close race, Republican Roy Moore lost the race by 20,000 votes to Democrat Doug Jones. So many are stunned by the Democrat victory in a deep red state, but it’s not so much who won this Senate race than who is still being fetishized that bothers me.
We’ve seen this spotlighted since the 2016 presidential election — when the poll breakdown by race and gender are published, the numbers confirm what Black women* have known since the dawn of time: we are one of the very few, if not the only, community that has consistently voted in the interest of human rights. Yet, our voting choices has always been weaponized against us; turned around from being an act of self-preservation into one that assuages white folks’ racist guilt, giving them an opportunity to “thank Black women for saving [us]”.
Here’s a news flash: We never belonged to you.
This morning, my social media was flooded with posts from “well-meaning” to obtuse non-Black folks who mentioned the same fetishizing nonsense we’ve been seeing since politics turned into a dystopian nightmare for everyone else. Amidst the “Black women saved us,” and “Black women voted for us,” there’s an afterthought of supporting Black women. But these bare minimum posts signal nothing more than finding another way to assert power over Black women. The bar is set on the ground if white folks are using a Senate election as the push they need to finally understand that this country is built on white supremacy. But even more than that, it is no more than an opportunistic ploy to once again treat Black women like the mammies or mules they want us to be.
You can set a watch to the timing of white supremacy using Black women for their own means. In centering Black women’s voting track record, this means that Black women are collectively robbed of their personal autonomy. When the first thought that comes to the minds of non-Black folks is that anything Black women do is for anyone but themselves, we are moving to take ownership of Black women. Plain and simple. To assert that kind of power over a marginalized group is an extension of the white supremacy that already hangs over our heads.
The Trump election really began to highlight how much non-Black people love to own and fetishize Black women. The ownership of public Black female figures like Beyoncé and Maxine Waters, the digital blackface, the turning of Black women into viral gifs and memes—all while turning a blind eye to the maternal death rate and our continued pleads to see us as human. All of this is strategic in proving that the only thing that white supremacy is interested in, despite the public knowledge of social justice, is reclaiming Black women as the mammies that are propped up to coddle and take care of them, with no desires or needs of their own.
This country was built on white supremacy. But even with many non-Black folks just arriving to the party (only because they’re beginning to be treated how Black folks have always, systematically been treated), that only works to scratch the surface of the problem. The issue is that there’s still a resistance to do the actual work required to dismantle white supremacy.
Mainstream culture wants us to believe that dismantling is a fluffy process; one that can be done with “resist” stickers and pink pussy hats. But to dismantle a system that has historically and systematically given those with privilege and unearned head start over marginalized communities means to dig deep and get rid of the comfort that comes with that privilege. And as much as many folks like that idea in theory because they want to be seen as good and virtuous, the reality is that so few are actually willing to do that work when it is required of them, of their own accord.
So what exactly needs to be done? There can be no dismantling of any oppressive system without people with privilege committing to doing the hard work. There is no collective liberation without financial support, since economic privilege is one of many ways that Black women are kept as a marginalized group. It’s not enough to simply say that we should be believed; our initiatives need to be fully funded, our individual PayPal, Patreons, and CashMe accounts should be funded from the labor that is demanded from us, day in and day out (without them being weaponized against us, as if economic support means that anyone is entitled to us… but that’s another piece altogether).
To center non-Black people’s value over those of Black folks is racist and an extension of white supremacy. Yet, Black women are continuously on the front lines because we are the most visible targets of white supremacy. We do it for ourselves—even when these systems show us time and time again that they have no interest in our humanity, we want to believe in a world that we can be free in. We overwhelmingly vote, commit ourselves to actionable change because we believe in that more than we believe in being anyone’s goddamn mammy.
If you believe that too, support our campaigns, our initiatives, our daily assertions of personhood. Respect us enough to know that the decisions we make are centered squarely and almost exclusively on what will be better for us. If you really want Black women to “save you”, do us all a favor and save yourself.
Image: Washington Post Election Polls