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Court and support Black women candidates

Glynda C. Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen OW Contributors | 5/10/2018, midnight

In a recently published Rolling Stone article, recording artist Janelle Monae exposes a disconcerting, yet largely universal awareness shared by Black women seeking to exercise power: When we reveal ourselves to be human and inevitably imperfect, we are too often labeled unworthy and incapable of leading. It’s why, Monáe says, she spent the better part of a decade masking herself behind the persona of an android named Cindi Mayweather.

Monáe’s unusual response to coping with this awareness may be unique to entertainment, but her acknowledgment speaks broadly to the very harsh, extraneous judgments that women-particularly Black women-face when they attempt to lead. These judgments were on full display in a recent New York Magazine article that ostensibly explored the campaigns of the two women—Stacey Abrams, who is Black, and Stacey Evans, who is White—running to become Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate. What the article manages to offer, however, is litany of demeaning characterization of Abrams, including suggesting that she is “uppity,” financially ill-equipped, hard to relate to and unmarriageable. In short, the article is a regurgitation of some of the most demeaning and hostile labels that Black women come up against whenever they attempt to claim seats of power.

Progressives need to pay attention, because these imbalanced judgments are not only unfair, but also defeating in a age when Black women are an indispensible, and perhaps the most critical factor in Democrats prevailing come November. If we don’t check and challenge false narratives about the character and viability of Black women candidates seeking to serve at all levels of government in all types of communities, we will no doubt spend the next two years once again analyzing what went wrong.

Politics is inherently a word war between competitors, but the tenor of the criticisms hurled at Abrams reads especially personal and especially coded. Left unchecked, there is a real risk that these immaterial characterizations will overshadow the strength of her qualifications. Abrams, who served eight years in the state legislature before stepping down to run for governor, is by far the most accomplished of the candidates vying for the top of Georgia’s Democratic ticket. As house minority leader, the Ivy League-educated attorney blocked efforts to raise taxes on the poor and working families; protected access to reproductive healthcare; and passed legislation in support of grandparents and other kin raising children. She also started the New Georgia Project, which registered more than 200,000 voters over two years. Her vision for Georgia includes universal pre-K, living-wage jobs and criminal-justice reforms that level the field for all the state’s residents.

In short, Abrams has the kind of leadership experience, legislative track record, relatable story and vision for the state that voters across the board should be eager to support. But with the May 22 primary just weeks away, She has had to spend a good deal of time talking about her debt-a situation wrought largely by her need to support family members in need-instead of her vision for a new Georgia. The distraction is vexing for many reasons, including that debt is not a disqualifier for holding office. If it were, a majority of our elected officials-most especially our current president-would never have been elected.