There is the deep, painful grief that takes me back to childhood, when I walked through life haunted by a reality where my face, my likeness, my racial identity was not reflected in the world around me. Poet Adrienne Rich captured this experience when she wrote,
“When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you … when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul — and not just individual strength, but collective understanding — to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.” (Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979–1985)
This is the experience of most Black women. Our reality has been absent of leaders who look like us, who care about us, who love us. Instead, we are governed by leaders who erase us. Through constructing and upholding racist laws, policies, and structures, we have been forced to live in loveless systems. As social change agent, Dr. Gail Christopher so perfectly said, “racism is nothing more than institutionalized lovelessness.”
My Black ancestors knew these loveless systems intimately. My grief is also tied to their ancient wails of sorrow as they died demanding their rights in the face of a white supremacist government who wrote laws that deemed them less than human. A reality alive today.
And then another kind of grief. As I thought about Black women voted in on Election Day: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris; U.S. Representative-elect Marilyn Strickland, the first African American to represent Washington State at the federal level and the first ever Korean American woman elected to Congress; Washington State Senator-elect T’wina Nobles, the first Black senator in a decade and currently the only Black senator; Washington State Representative Debra Entenman, 47th Legislative District; Washington State Representative Melanie Morgan, 29th Legislative District; Washington State Representative-elect Jamila Taylor, 30th Legislative District; Washington State Representative-elect April Berg, 44th Legislative District; and Washington State Representative-elect Kirsten Harris-Talley, 37th Legislative District. I felt the overwhelming, joyous grief that arises when generations of soul yearning is finally quenched. This grief was an exhalation of relief, a resounding joy, and a healing cry, and an outpouring of “thank god!” “finally!” “it’s about time!” encapsulated every tear I shed.
Eventually, the many layers of my complex grief started to subside and I began to feel a new feeling. A surge of empowerment. This was a welcomed feeling because standing in my power as a Black woman has always been slippery. One moment, I feel my power coursing through my veins and then, the next moment, I am reminded by the world around me that it is not my place to be a powerful Black woman. And yet today, multiple Black women stand in the halls of justice, ready to shape public policy for our liberation. They are my teachers, my mirrors, my most sacred, radiant, beautiful reminders that we as Black women have every right to be our most powerful selves.
Everyone benefits from powerful Black women.
For instance, Washingtonians and those who live in the 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Mason, Pierce, and Thurston Counties will benefit from U.S. Representative-elect Marilyn Strickland’s dynamic leadership. As a former Tacoma City Council member and Mayor of Tacoma, from 2010 to 2017, many already know the hard battles she has fought and won in support of improved education, climate change, building inclusive economies, criminal justice reform and marriage equality. She has stood in her power in a time when we needed it most. In a country where police accountability is tragically absent, Strickland has supported de-escalation training for police through her endorsement of I-940 and worked with communities of color and police in Tacoma to help build trust. She supports community-based policing, comprehensive immigration reform, and protecting women’s health and seeks to end the school-to-prison pipeline — to name just some of the many issues she will champion. She is exactly the kind of powerhouse we need at the federal level.
Washingtonians, especially those who live in the 28th Legislative District will also reap the benefits of Washington State Senator-elect T’wina Nobles’ potent leadership. Her unwavering commitment to education over the last 15 years as an instructor, a PTA member, and a member of the University Place School Board makes her a highly influential senator for education improvement. She will fight for the support our students and teachers so desperately need: equitable and inclusive schools, increased pay for teachers, and reduced class sizes. Nobles also believes in creating safer, healthier communities through supporting affordable health insurance, paid sick leave, and funding to support mental health and drug treatment. She supports environmental justice, police accountability and public safety, and improving transportation. Her dynamic leadership and rich experience illustrates that to be a powerful Black woman is to lead with heart, integrity, and sharp vision.
Such phenomenal models of powerful Black women leadership are medicine for my soul. They give me permission to release old narratives so I can step fully into a new empowering reality. The reality that we, as women leaders, can be unapologetically Black and powerful.
As Dr. Cornel West famously once said, “justice is what love looks like in public.” I have no doubts that these Black women electeds will bring more of that powerful love into the world.
Melia LaCour is a columnist for the South Seattle Emerald, Executive Director and Founder of “Becoming Justice” and a Precinct Committee Officer (PCO) in LD 37 for the King County Democrats. She identifies as Black, mixed-race and her work is rooted in the belief that racial healing is a fundamental component of racial justice work. She is a native Seattleite with a passion for justice and writing.