That Senate race has revealed important racial and gender fault lines in this country. Maybe some day we’ll reach a level of equality and humanity that makes our current hard, political lines more permeable.
Black women made a statement in Alabama. They got out the vote, they went to the polls and they led the way in saving everyone from having Roy Moore ascend to the Senate.
Roy Moore lately has been a symbol of the assault and harassment of women that runs deep in the culture and that has recently ignited a movement to hold men accountable for their actions.
But Moore is also a product and example of other forms of oppression, including that of black Americans who have to fight hard to have a voice in states like Alabama, where politics stray so far from what is democratic.
Gender was less a factor than race or religion in defining the vote. And there is a long history of that in Alabama politics and in the South, in general.
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Black people are 26 percent of the state’s voting-age population, but exit polls show black residents made up 28 percent of those who voted in the election. And 97 percent of black Alabamians who voted for Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate who ran against the Republican Moore. Among black female voters, 98 percent voted for Jones.
Among white female voters, meanwhile, only 34 percent voted for Jones, despite allegations of several women who have accused Moore of sexual harassment or assault that happened when they were teenagers and when he was in his 30s.
Gender didn’t outweigh party loyalty for most white women.
And despite the moral questions that hang over Moore, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him. There are plenty of black evangelicals, but Moore didn’t get a boost from black Christians.
Jones actively courted the black vote, and his record helped. He made a name for himself by successfully prosecuting two of the men responsible for the bombing of a black church in Birmingham in 1963. Four girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the killers bragged about what they’d done. And yet, the leader of the group wasn’t prosecuted until 1977.
If most white Alabamians could ignore that for so long, we shouldn’t be surprised that they looked past the allegations against Moore.
Decades later, Jones brought two more men to justice for the bombings, winning convictions in 2001 and 2002.
Jones also stands apart because he’s a white Democrat in Alabama, which is why hardly anyone gave him much chance of winning, even with all of Moore’s shortcomings.
It’s worth recalling how we got to this particular arrangement of race and party, because it affects politics for the whole country, not just the South. The election of Donald Trump is one of the fruits of that history.
When Reconstruction ended, white supremacist Democrats took political control across the South. Black people in the South favored the Republican Party because it was the party of Lincoln. The New Deal attracted some black voters to the Democrats, but white Democrats dominated the region until the 1960s when race and party affiliation flip-flopped.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress, and the next year the Voting Rights Act became law. Johnson’s fellow Southern Democrats chafed at that, and the party began to lose ground in the South.
The Republicans took advantage of the division and successfully courted white Southerners. The result is that the white South is as solidly Republican today as it once was Democratic. And the black South is almost exclusively within the Democratic Party, so much smaller that it is at a constant disadvantage in statewide and national elections. Republicans in Seattle might be familiar with the feeling of throwing votes into the wind.
This Alabama election was such an odd one that it will be difficult to draw conclusions from it. But I hope black people across the South will be energized by seeing how black Alabamians made their ballots count.
I hope all white women will value women more, in and out of politics, too.
And, some day, maybe we will reach a level of equality and humanity that will make some of the hard lines of our current politics more permeable, and we’ll move toward a culture that doesn’t force people to fight to be free of oppression.