Stacey Abrams was always going to be the star of the Georgia runoff elections. The names on the ballots (for Democrats) may have been two men — Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — but if they secured victory in the historic race for the US Senate in Georgia, it was inevitable that a Black woman would get the credit — as she should. On Tuesday night, as soon as Warnock won his runoff and it was clear that Ossoff’s win was imminent, Abrams started trending on Twitter.
Abrams has been the face of the historic voter turnouts in Georgia during the presidential race and the runoffs since her tireless efforts to get people — especially Black voters — to the polls for years. The progress Abrams (and other Black women like LaTosha Brown who cofounded Black Voters Matter) has made with The New Georgia Project and Fair Fight has been well documented. If you’re a well-versed political pundit or even just a casual viewer of American elections, you know Stacey Abrams’ name. You know she’s put in WORK. You know she deserves her flowers. And so, when Abrams was rightly getting showered with praise on Twitter the night of Georgia’s runoffs, it was nice — until it wasn’t.
There’s a fine line between giving Abrams her flowers and the credit she deserves without tasking her to save the whole damn country. Last night, that line was crossed.
Like every good thing on Twitter, the conversation about Stacey Abrams was enjoyable for about five minutes until it took a turn. Suddenly, there were tweets likening Abrams to a Marvel superhero and applauding her as if she’s a mythical creature with supernatural abilities instead of a competent Black woman who did her job incredibly well. Suddenly, white people were bestowing the burden of putting out every fire in America onto a Black woman, specifically a Black woman who has been burned numerous times by the country she is now supposed to save.
Implying that Stacey Abrams is a magical negro who flew into town to defeat a big bad villain for the sake of saving white people is to diminish the integral work that she did. It’s an insensitive attempt to make her an exception. Of course, she has to be a special all-powerful being in order to do such great work. She has to be exceptional, instead of just capable and Black in America.
What Stacey Abrams did in Georgia is revolutionary but it’s not extraordinary. Black women have been organising on the ground in this country for as long as they have been able to vote. The work that culminated in Democrats emerging victorious in Georgia’s runoff elections started with Georgian Black women organisers a decade ago. Black women have been voting in their own interest — NOT for the sake of saving white people — in election after election to mostly thankless results. And now, when it’s time to thank Black women for their work, the tone is gross and uncomfortably condescending.
The tweets (whether they are attempts at comedy or not) suggesting that Abrams should take over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, redo the ending of Game of Thrones and generally save the world harken back to the "Black Women Will Save Us" refrain that liberal white Twitter loves to drudge up in times like these. It’s a sentiment that puts the onus on doing the right thing squarely on the most marginalised and disenfranchised group in America. These comments mysticise very real human beings and belittle Black women into another one-dimensional representation that not only doesn’t amount to real appreciation, it further oppresses us.
If Stacey Abrams can pull this off Biden should put her in charge of everything. The vaccine rollout. Writing and directing an alternate Game of Thrones ending. Running Major League Baseball, etc.— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) January 5, 2021
I think about Erin B. Lorgan’s op-ed in the L.A. Times from August called "Dear DNC, don’t count on Black women to fix your party" a lot. In it, Lorgan writes about feeling conflicted about Black American women finally getting the credit they deserve for their involvement in Democratic politics and the way that recognition gets twisted into racism real quick. "But the long-awaited acknowledgment has been marred by a creepy form of gratitude that for me evokes the racist trope of a ‘mammy,’ that fictional happy Black woman who not only thrives off domestic work but genuinely enjoys caring for white people."
It gets even creepier when you read the multiple tweets that were variations of "I want to leave my wife for Stacey Abrams and she’s cool with it". One particularly disturbing tweet by a white dude said that he was leaving his wife to be a "foot-washer in Stacey Abrams’ troupe of roaming sex slaves". I’ve got a challenge: compliment a Black woman without fetishising her. Compliment-a-Black-woman-without-making-it-super-weird challenge!
The discomfort of sexualizing Abrams for, again, doing her job, may be more obvious for some. Others may not get why asking Black women to save the country is a bad thing, considering the fact that the positive anti-Trump results of recent elections would not have happened without them. As activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham tweeted, "Black people didn’t save you. Black people saved ourselves, once again. Black people saved themselves in a state that tried VERY hard to prevent that from happening again," she wrote. "But that’s the funny thing about justice: When Black people win... everybody benefits."
Abrams lost her 2018 run for Georgia governor by a heartbreakingly small margin.
Voter suppression tactics were used by her opponent and ultimately led to her loss. Since then, she’s been uncompromising in her fight to fix a system that failed Black voters specifically, but in her efforts, she’s rectifying elections for all American voters. Still, don’t call her a saviour. Abrams herself told The New York Times why she doesn’t like it when people proclaim Black women as the heroes of American politics.
"In my approach, in Georgia in particular, Black women have been instrumental. But I chafe at this idea that we then objectify one group as both savior and as responsible party."
Hey, if people really want to exalt Black women, here’s an idea:
Listen to them.