Last night was a history making moment for women in the United States. There are now more women serving in Congress at the same time than ever before, including 20 in the Senate and at least 98 in the House.
Many of these women were first time candidates who upset long held Republican seats — Lucy McBath, a Black woman running in Georgia's 6th District on a platform of gun control pulled off an upset win to take her Republican opponent's seat. For some context: This is a seat once held by Newt Gingrich. And many — like Sharice Davids in Kansas who will be that state's first Native American Congresswoman, to Ilhan Omar in Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib who will be the first Muslim women elected to Congress — broke boundaries of gender, race, and sexual orientation.
One thing that stayed the same? White women voters.
Most of us know the statistic: 52% of white women helped elect Donald Trump to the American presidency in 2016. But there was hope, in the wake of Trump's rollback of reproductive rights, his mockery of Christine Blasey Ford, and his hateful rhetoric towards female colleagues like Maxine Waters, that there might be, if not a sea change, then at least a rogue wave disrupting the voting patterns of white women.
It was not to be.
In the exceptionally close Senate race in Texas between Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O'Rourke, it was white American women who helped clinch the vote for Cruz. In a vote that broke along racial lines, 59% of white American women elected a man who has consistently voted not only against their interests but who has done so by aligning himself closely with the anti-immigrant, racist hate mongering of Donald Trump. By comparison, 95% of Black American women voted for O'Rourke.
In the still too-close-to-call Georgia governor's race, 76% of white American women who voted did so for Republican Brian Kemp compared to 97% of Black women who voted for Stacey Abrams. Abrams has not conceded the election, saying that, "Across our state, folks are opening up the dreams of voters in absentee ballots, and we believe our chance for a stronger Georgia is just within reach. But we cannot seize it until all voices are heard."
Again and again, white women have shown that they vote against their gender and with their race. This is not to say that all women should vote as a bloc — some are fiercely pro-life and second amendment and place less importance on other issues like child care and immigration, as is their right. But in a time when the disrespect for women coming from the highest political office in the land is palpable and ugly, the overwhelming disconnect of white women's voting patterns seems baffling. And so the question becomes, why do white women vote, over and over, for political structures that reinforce a white male hierarchy at the direct expense of women and people of colour?
Historically, married white women who vote in concert with their husbands depend financially on their marriage and therefore it benefits them to maintain a status quo that protects male spouses. But this demographic isn't the only one holding back race and gender parity. In her book White Fragility, sociologist Robin DiAngelo reserves some of her harshest criticism for those white women who consider themselves as exceptionally progressive and who are unable or unwilling to recognize their own complicity. “To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived," she writes.
That is to say that that many educated and progressive white women still benefit from the political and economic systems in place that deny power and agency to people of colour. To say that you support female candidates of colour is a very different thing from mobilizing behind a candidate of colour. It's very different than recognizing the unique position women of colour have to affect actual political change themselves, instead of needing somebody to "save" them.
The inherent advantages of being a white woman — which might include, in addition to resources, access to a network of other white women — could be some of the most valuable tools for organizing and mobilizing behind candidates of colour, getting them elected, and dismantling an unequal status quo. Because for all of last night's gains, there is a incredible amount of change that must happen in America.
But white women, like me, must choose to harness that power in order to lift others up.