Do Black lives matter in America? The answer depends on whom you ask and what day of the week it is. As a Black woman in politics, I know that on most days and in many households and boardrooms, Black lives don’t matter.
Years ago, a white friend of mine argued with me over the phrase “Black lives matter,” insisting that it diminishes her experiences as a white woman. “My Black life matters,” I told her, “and if you cannot say that, we’re done.” Our relationship ended.
But then a few weeks ago, after the world watched George Floyd murdered by police over a $20 bill, that same woman called me out of the blue. “I get it now,” she said. “I was wrong. I am so sorry for the things I said.”
I’d like to think she is not alone – that people are starting to get it. But, like most Black Americans, I have a lifetime of experiences that tell me that it’s going to take more than one repaired friendship to eradicate racism.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., I learned the hard way that Black lives don’t always matter to white people. I vaguely understood, growing up, that my brother was more at risk than his white Catholic school peers. I recall my father telling him in the late 1960s that he and his basketball buddies should stick together, but never in groups larger than three. At the time, I didn’t understand that their lives might be in danger.
Too many of us are in severe pain, tormented after generations of soul-crushing events, numb to a new promise of progress. Weak proclamations by a dog-whistling president and patchwork legislation by a broken Congress will not solve systemic racism. Remedy lies in the power of the vote. In a nation gripped by angst, the only solution is political reform that gives voters power to force change at the ballot box.
At Unite America, where I am the sole Black member of the board of directors, we are spear-heading a non-partisan philanthropic community making strategic investments to accelerate and scale the growing movement to put voters first.
The movement’s road map for fixing our broken political system and empowering all voters includes:
- Ending partisan gerrymandering to make legislative districts more competitive and less polarized. “Cracking” and “packing” voters based on identity and party has undermined Black representation for decades;
- Opening primary elections to independent voters, especially to the over 2 million Blacks voters who are disenfranchised in closed-primary states and my hometown, Washington, D.C.
- Enacting ranked choice voting to eliminate run-off elections, which are vestiges of racist electoral rules, and ensure that winners have the support of majorities of voters;
These reforms undercut the duopoly’s toxic grip on American politics and put our country’s interests ahead of the parties’. These reforms also would level the playing field for women and minority candidates, giving us not just the empathy of our white friends but also the powers and privileges they’ve long enjoyed. Then, maybe, we can strike a powerful blow against systemic racism with a more functional government, potentially capable of tackling issues like police and criminal justice reform.
Let’s start by expanding the decades-old practice of voting by mail, a process that both enfranchises Americans and spares them the risk of voting in crowded precincts during a pandemic.
Each of us must be able to safely vote. It is an undeniable right. My hope is that all protesters who are eligible to vote are registered and ready to do so in November. That goes for non-protesters as well. Everyone! Vote like your life depends on it. Mine does.