VIEW: Don’t Ask Stacey Abrams to Clean Up the Mess

Catherine R. Squires is Associate Dean in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of several books about race, media, and politics.

My Twitter feed is filled with praise for Stacey Abrams, followed by half-joking suggestions that she be put in charge of everything that has been bungled by the Trump White House and its GOP enablers — vaccine distribution, tax reform, climate change.

Those suggestions have been answered with a resounding side eye by me and other Black women, and a declaration: we are not here to clean up white supremacist-made messes.

Acknowledging the skills and capabilities of Black women feels like a slap in the face when it happens at the last minute, at the dire hour, after white supremacists have literally looted and trashed the nation’s seat of government.

Messages of “Black girl magic” are not pro-Black women. They are reflections of a culture that continues to see exceptional individualism as the solution, rather than part of the larger problem. Our society isn’t made up of atomistic individuals: we are interconnected, we impact each other in ways large and small.  And we make cultural and political change in community, not alone.

Stacey Abrams’ success was the success of a community. She is the most visible of the organizers and activists fighting to make voting rights real and durable.

When Trump leaves office, white supremacy will not be over. Nor will power-hungry members of his party cease their assault on truth, science, and civil rights legislation. Indeed, many Republican legislators are devising ways to make voting harder in 2022 and 2024.

Mere hours after white supremacists raised Confederate flags and smeared feces in the U.S. Capitol, some Congressmen and media figures were calling for a “return to normal” so we can begin “healing.”

No thank you. A return to normal requires amnesia. ‘Normal’ — before Trump, before COVID-19 — wasn’t working that well. That’s why things fell apart so hideously in four years.

There is no going ‘back to normal.’ There is only re-entry. We must take time to reflect and to plan how to re-engage with each other in the wake of failures we have witnessed in health care, education, law enforcement, media, and government.

Re-entry will happen slowly, after the pandemic threat has lessened. But Trumpism, racism, and misogyny continue to metastasize. In order to resist ‘back to normal,’ transformation will require attention to different questions and priorities, such as:

  • How do we make accountability for systems, not only individuals?
  • Who is responsible for repair of historical harms that continue to undermine the health and wellbeing of whole communities?
  • Who is assumed to be able to accept less than what is fair?
  • Why are some people labeled as undeserving of care?
  • Why are we so eager to deprive the most vulnerable people of basic human needs, like shelter and food?

What Stacey Abrams and other Black women leaders did to turn out voters in 2020 was amazing. People should consult their expertise, should value their leadership and ideas. These women should be approached with respect, resources, and realistic timelines for healing and change in the systems that broke down with such deadly consequences.

In other words, don’t expect Black women to be your Superwomen. Learn from and contribute to the human-scaled efforts we undertake to solve human-made problems.


2 replies
  1. Suzanne Fenton
    Suzanne Fenton says:

    Thank you. You are so right!
    Healing can only begin AFTER acknowledging reality and being fully accountable for the supporting, enabling, and conspiring roles anyone plays choosing absolutely wrong over what is just and right.

  2. Suzann Willhite
    Suzann Willhite says:

    I agree that we do not want to go “back to normal”. “Re-entry” is a good way to think about what could be better for more people. Thanks

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