Women divided by race over key issues, but with areas of overlap

Kadia Tubman
Reporter
The Women’s March, Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2019. (Photo: Erin Scott/Reuters)

American women of all races want many of the same things, but they don’t necessarily agree on what their biggest issues are, or the best way to solve them, according to the results of a new poll conducted by Langer Research Associates for Yahoo, HuffPost, Makers and other Verizon media brands, in partnership with Care.

Two years into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, most women agree that sexual harassment is a problem, but there’s a significant difference between the races over how big: 80 percent of women of color call it a “serious” problem, compared to 63 percent of white women.

In the fight for equal rights, one in five white women think it has gone too far or far enough, but that drops to 7 percent among black women. White women are more likely than women of color to believe the fight has been adequate — “about right.”

And while women, in general, believe there’s room for change, and for women to be in powerful positions to make more progress, when it comes down to who should lead, a majority of women of color (74 percent) think having more women in positions of power would be a good thing, while white women are more equivocal: just 55 percent agree.

The poll surveyed over 1,000 women across the United States.

Black women, in particular, have been increasingly prominent and influential in electoral politics since the 2016 election. Alabama Democrat Doug Jones won an upset special election to the Senate with the votes of 98 percent of black women voters. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams won nationwide attention for her campaign for governor, and in the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Kamala Harris is a leading contender.

Still, black women want more equality in jobs and pay and in relations between the sexes, and they aren’t relying solely on broader social movements or political parties to get what they want. They’re relying on themselves.

“We have had to fend for ourselves, fight for ourselves, protect ourselves and that that inclination has not changed over the years,” political analyst and diversity consultant Dr. Avis A. Jones-DeWeever told Yahoo News. “It continues to this day and various forms. And there are so many examples of not only our voting behavior but also our on-the-ground organizing in our communities.”

Two years ago, at the start of the #MeToo movement, Oronike Odeleye co-founded the #MuteRKelly campaign, calling for a boycott of the R&B singer R. Kelly, who in February was charged with aggravated sexual abuse of girls between the ages of 13 and 17. She wanted to draw the attention of a movement that had sought to be “as general as possible to affect as many women as possible” to the sexual abuse of black women and girls specifically.

“The feminist movement, like so many other movements,” Odeleye told Yahoo News, “does not take black voices as seriously when we raise our hand and say, ‘Hey, we have got an overwhelming problem here.’ We are dying more than any other group in childbirth in these hospitals. We are being sexually abused more than any other group out here. We are receiving the blunt end of all of these problems. White women’s issues have taken up so much of our mental headspace, the black women’s issues get put on the back burner.”

“In the #MuteRKelly movement,” continued Odeleye, “we get comments like ‘Why is this just about black girls? Why is this about the black community when this is a problem in all communities?’”

Demonstrators gather to show support for survivors of sexual abuse following a television documentary series on singer R. Kelly. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Odeleye said she received negative feedback from both white and black communities. “Time’s Up had gotten behind us, but it was still overwhelmingly ignored by the white community all together until the documentary [“Surviving R. Kelly”] came out,” she said. “Black people started getting on board, little by little, as we started putting out more of the facts of the case. But it’s overwhelmingly been black women. Black men have mostly been silent.”

“Black women have been the saviors and have had to sacrifice so much oftentimes without being given any credit, even among our own,” said former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner, who is co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign. “Black women don’t have the luxury of just saying, Let me just think about my gender.”

Turner, who said her identity as an African-American takes priority over her gender, has “caught hell” for her support of the oldest white man running for president in what will be a diverse Democratic primary.

“I am supporting him because I get to bring my black womanness into this space and get to be an adviser at that table,” Turner told Yahoo News. “I get the opportunity, the privilege to come face to face with crowds who may not necessarily look like me. And I check myself every time before I have to go and give a speech before a crowd like that, I try to make sure that I’m bringing my blackness with me, that I’m bringing my humanity with me.”

When asked why not rally behind a woman candidate like the only black female candidate, Kamala Harris, she said, “For me, it’s not just about gender. The identities that people bring to the table do matter, but I look at the wholeness of the person.”

She continued: “We have multiple lenses by which we should choose to support people in the political space, but it can’t just be about gender. Because if it’s just about gender, then that means that I should have supported Sarah Palin. If it’s just about race, then I should support Clarence Thomas. I do care about women [and race] but that’s not the only two boxes that I check. … Our needs are not monolithic.”

To find out what black women wanted and needed, Melanie Campbell, president of the Black Women’s Roundtable, a program of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and a steering committee member of the Women’s March, surveyed voters during the 2018 midterms.

“The issues that were of high importance that black women told us as they were leaving the polling places: affordable health care, criminal justice/policing reform, equal rights, equal pay, hate crime, racism, jobs, employment and voting rights,” Campbell told Yahoo News.

“For us black women, we have different things we stand up for,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a national political network for women of color. “But being blended into a [movement dominated by] white women has rendered us invisible. And made it easier for the political structures, parties, donors, candidates, campaigns to ignore us even as they count on our high voter turnout.”

“After the special election in Alabama, we saw recognition that ‘black women will save us,’” Allison told Yahoo News. “This is the time where black women have emerged as and are recognized as a great political force in a way that [goes beyond] a narrative about just race.”

This political engagement has also had a positive impact on black women’s health, says Linda Goler-Blount, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative.

“We’re always talking about those policies that help promote health,” she told Yahoo News. “And so now we’ve got even more allies in the legislative process to advance health-promoting policies.”

Goler-Blount continued: “For example, a few years ago we worked with several national organizations to get the PALS Act passed, Providing Access to Life-Saving Screening. And that was in response to a recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to raise the age of screening mammography to 50 and to make it biannual instead of every year. Had that become policy, two things would have happened: Insurers by statute would have changed their reimbursement policy so a woman under 50 couldn’t have gotten a screening mammogram unless she paid for it for herself. And because some 25 to 28 percent of breast cancers in black women are diagnosed under the age of 50 that would have meant another 1,200 black women dying every year from breast cancer.”

Tamika Mallory, left, and Nina Turner at the Women’s March, Jan. 19, 2019. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A moratorium on the policy change was passed three years ago and has been extended, but it expires at the end of the year. Goler-Blount thinks this time, with more women and women of color in Congress, getting another extension won’t be too difficult. “We’ll have many more allies, many more women engaged in the legislative process, many more women aware of what this means for their health. And so, we really should have a much easier time keeping that moratorium in place or frankly just throwing out the recommendations altogether.”

“The only people to save us on a daily basis has been our ourselves, our collective unity and working together for the betterment of our gender and our race,” said Sharaya Tindal Wiesendanger, strategic communications coordinator at Black Women’s Blueprint. “And black women will continue to be the people who are working actively to protect ourselves.”

But black women might not have to work alone. The poll shows that a majority of women (56 percent) believe discrimination based on gender is a serious issue, but many more (74 percent), white women included, feel that way about race-based discrimination. Thirty-five percent of white women said racial discrimination is a “very serious” problem. Only 18 percent of white women felt that way about gender discrimination.

“We need allies,” said Wiesendanger. “We need black men to ally with us. We need more than just good white liberals. We need actively anti-racist white folks constantly checking white supremacy, institutionally, structurally, individually. We need all of those kinds of hands on deck.”

This HuffPost/Yahoo/Care survey was conducted by telephone Jan. 21-30, 2019, among a random national sample of 1,008 adult women, with 71 percent reached on cellphones and 29 percent on landlines. Results have a 3.6 percentage point error margin for the full sample, including design effects due to weighting. The survey was produced by Langer Research Associates of New York, with field work by Issues & Answers of Virginia Beach, Va.

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