On Tuesday, May 22nd, the state I call home, made history. A major party nominated an African-American woman to be its gubernatorial candidate for the first time in United States history. This candidate has a name: Stacey Abrams. It is worth taking note of this name because for the next six months the country will watch as she attempts to turn Georgia blue for the first time since Bill Clinton’s win in 1992. She will become our first female Governor and the first African-American female Governor of any state in our country’s short two hundred year history. Win or lose, her name has already entered the history books. So why are people trying to diminish it?
Strangers on the internet, Republicans, and close friends of mine have all mentioned a common counter question to her historic feat: “Why should her race and gender cloud her policies?” I will be the first to agree one’s physical features should not trump policies; however, rooted in that question is the desire to dispel the centuries of work it has taken for a black woman to achieve this accomplishment.
We do not celebrate men or white Americans for winning the reigns of power in our country, because that is how it has always been. For generations, Americans were raised with the idea that power in our country belonged to a certain gender, race, and class of people. Minorities have been barred from the ballot box and from running for office. A victory like that of Abram’s last Tuesday signifies the old guard should officially be on notice. We must not ignore her race in this victory; little girls and little boys will look up to Abrams and believe they too can accomplish what she has. They will be able to enter politics knowing they have the potential to make a difference in their communities. Representation is a powerful tool, but it has not always been available to everyone.
As someone on the ground in Georgia, I do not believe it was her race that led Leader Abrams to victory. It was her experience as our State House Minority Leader, it was her ability to register thousands of Georgians to vote, and it was her belief that every Georgian deserves a chance to thrive in our growing economy. The issues truly did trump characteristics, but we can talk about the issues and her historic candidacy.
The people who often ask why her race and gender matter are typically the people who have never needed to question their “seat at the table.” It is easy for men, white Americans, and those from high socioeconomic backgrounds to brush off Abrams’ success, for their physical characteristics and economic stability have never barred them from being elected. Those who feel the need to ask this question have not been questioned in return. The question itself is not a problem, but rather the ignorance and privilege rooted in it is.
I applaud Leader Abrams’ record for fighting to save HOPE scholarship, her ability to fight for access to the ballot box, and her passion for bringing quality healthcare to all corners of Georgia. In addition, I applaud her ability to overcome the barriers placed before her as an African-American woman in the south.
I had the opportunity to speak with her at the Young Democrats of Georgia State Convention. I asked her if she was worried about our voting rights under our current Secretary of State. Her knowledge and passion immediately poured out, “Yes, I am worried, but I am also happy to know that we have helped build such a strong voting protection infrastructure.” She mentioned the work done by the New Georgia Project, which under her leadership helped register thousands of Georgians to vote. Her life’s work has not been centered around being the first black woman to do certain things, rather it is the issues plaguing her Republican-controlled state that push her forward on this historic journey. The historic nature of her race and gender just happen to be along for the ride.
This is a leader who was once denied from entering the Governor’s Mansion, and now she is almost living in it. I attend school in Milledgeville, Georgia where the Old Governor’s Mansion resides from its time of use during the Antebellum Period. This Old Mansion was once managed by slaves. Now, our new Governor’s Mansion has a chance of being occupied by a black woman. This is what history looks like, and we must not overlook it. For African-Americans, women, LGBT+ individuals, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, a victory like this has been a long time coming. Let us celebrate it.