Women’s Equality Day 2013: Celebrating the nostalgia of past successes while remaining rooted in the dangers of the future

Monday, August 26, 2013

By Jasmine Burnett

Today, August 26, 2013 is Women’s Equality Day. It marks 93 years that white women have had access to the vote, and over 40 years since this day has been nationally recognized. Giving full credit to the importance of what this day means to the legacy of women’s leadership and self determination, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Black women did not have access to the vote until our gender caught up with our race with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Unfortunately, just this year, in a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down the “racial discrimination” clause of the act, “freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.” What this means is that 9 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia and a number of counties and municipalities including Manhattan and Brooklyn will now be left to local jurisdiction on redistricting without Federal approval. Consequently, this means the way the lines are drawn can shift who controls the governing body and essentially change which policies get passed into law; as was evidenced in 2011 with the ballot and Personhood initiatives in Mississippi.

This ruling comes on the heels of an unprecedented voter turnout for Black Americans at 95% in 2008 and 93% in 2012. Black women have been leaders through our vote in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections outpacing Black men by 9 percentage points. Though this percentage is not a reflection of the disinterest of Black men in the vote it is, however, connected to the disproportionate number of Black men who have a felony conviction, which limits their access to the vote. According to the Sentencing Project, “1.4 million African American men, or 13% of Black men, is disenfranchised, a rate seven-times the national average.” For Black women, voter disenfranchisement due to felony convictions is 3 times the national average of women. This disenfranchisement also extends to Transgender individuals where their identification does not match their gender presentation. This has led to harassment at the polling site and many being asked to leave.

As I reflect on how Black women enter this celebration, I’m reminded of the internal racial and gender dynamics reflected in the recent hashtags #solidarityisforwhitewomen and #blackpowerisforblackmen that flooded Twitter this month serving as a cultural reminder that “All The Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.” Inherent in those hashtags are testimonies attached to the lived experiences of Black women today fighting for equality, recognition and access to address the systemic barriers that have shifted at best, and become more sophisticated at worse. For now, I’ll toss my confetti in celebration of the distance that we’ve traveled, while at the same time arming myself for the uncertainty of what this celebration will mean for us in the future.

This piece was originally posted on jasmineburnett.com and is being cross-posted with permission.

Jasmine Burnett is a participant in Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families. Since 2009, Jasmine has been a Reproductive Justice leader and grassroots organizer in New York City. She is the Lead Organizer of New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice (NYC4RJ), formerly organized as SisterSong NYC. Jasmine also advocates for the Right to Sexual Pleasure and to Define Families through her online community, Aunt Betty’s Basement.

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