The Power and
Seeming Invisibleness
of Black Women
By Lenice C. Emanuel, MLA
Executive Director
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Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is Power is a bi-weekly blog by the Alabama Institute for Social Justice offering information, stories, and thoughts to inspire, educate, and empower.
Last week, the historic win of a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama by Democrat Doug Jones marked a stunning victory in the majority Republican state. The data clearly tell the story. It was the 98% of Black women voters that made the greatest impact in electing Doug Jones. A groundswell of gratitude was lauded on Black women for how their collective vote “saved America.” For many Black women, this show of appreciation was met with mixed feelings. While it was fitting to be celebrated for this noted contribution, the sudden acknowledgement left many Black women puzzled. The dubiety came in Black women’s knowledge and understanding of their value and worth, even when they are seemingly invisible to others
Since women of the African diaspora arrived in the United States, they have long been saving America. Despite enduring unimaginable physical abuse – being beaten and raped – and the wrenching disruption of their families, they continued to work in unfailing servitude for the benefit of their White slave masters’ families and homes as America was being built. And, even in contemporary times, it is often Black women who work silently behind the scenes, caring for others and building in ways that are invisible to most. For example, in Alabama, countless Black women care for children in child-care programs in rural parts of the state that go unnoticed and are often grossly under-supported. These women provide services to thousands of children each year, operating under a reimbursement system that pays inadequately for their services. At the same time, they feel pushed out by well-intended efforts like Universal Pre-Kindergarten that, ultimately, create an unequal playing field for what are predominantly Black women caregivers. In true-to-form fashion, Black women began caring for children in some of the most impoverished parts of the state decades ago, long before the industrialization of preschool was on the rise. When attention is not paid to the potential impact such programs have on community and home-based child-care programs, there are looming consequences that lead to rural child-care center closings or tuition increases that create hardships for working families already living below the poverty line. Yet, historically, these Black women have been among the largest providers of child care for the state.
This is merely one example of why Black women struggle to accept the congratulatory accolades concerning their impact on Alabama’s U.S. Senate election. The challenges that Black women face on a daily basis are arduous and incredibly taxing. Black women are often left to handle life and its complexities alone, with little to no help or support from those in a position to level the playing field. Therefore, in response to the stated appreciation by those onlookers who seem to think that Black women strategically set out to save America: you’re welcome. But the truth of the matter is that Black women set out to deliberately save themselves. And that is a fact.

For those seeking ways to express their gratitude, there are countless ways to support Black women:
  • Take a stand in your arenas of influence to speak out against obvious injustices against Black women.
  • Donate your time, talent, and treasure to organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of Black women.
  • And, finally, in the words of Angela Peoples’ latest article in the New York Times, which references Black women and organizations working to create social change in Alabama: “Don’t Just Thank Black Women. Follow Us.”  

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