In the run-up to the Texas gubernatorial election, much hand-wringing was done over the Hispanic lady voter: Are they too socially conservative to support Wendy Davis? Will they come around to Abortion Barbie? Will they cotton to Greg Abbott’s but-my-wife-is-Hispanic schtick?
I was guilty of a version of this, myself.
I should have looked in the mirror.
It was women like me—married white women, specifically—who failed Wendy Davis—and ourselves, and our families, and Texas families—on Tuesday night. According to exit polls, Black women, Black men, Latinas, and a near-majority of Latinos who voted turned out in solid numbers for Davis.
Among voters, 94 percent of Black women, 90 percent of Black men, 61 percent of Latinas, and 49 percent of Latinos in Texas voted for Wendy Davis.
Meanwhile, just 32 percent of white Texas women who voted did so for Wendy Davis.
You’ll hear that Greg Abbott “carried” women voters in Texas. Anyone who says that is also saying this: that Black women and Latinas are not “women,” and that carrying white women is enough to make the blanket statement that Abbott carried all women. That women generally failed to vote for Wendy Davis. As if women of color are some separate entity, some mysterious other, some bizarre demographic of not-women.
The story does not begin and end with “men” and “women”; we have to look at which men, which women—particularly if the Democratic Party is ever going to decide to come out fighting hard on issues like immigration reform and moving the gamepiece aggressively forward, rather than backward, on reproductive rights.
Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.
The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.
But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.
Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.
On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.
White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.
We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.
Without empathy, a culture of fear is allowed to foment and thrive. It is that culture that has ensured that white folks never need engage with the idea of non-white humanity, with the concept of lives of color. It is this culture of fear, our culture of fear, that put Greg Abbott in the governor’s mansion, and it needs to be cut out of our communities like the cancer it is. We do this by rebuilding ourselves in a better image, in the image of our sisters of color who, time and again, have shown that they care that we have access to health care, to the voting booth, even though we have not done the same for them.
We have much to learn by witnessing the strength of Texans of color, by respecting and supporting the work of groups like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the Afiya Center, SisterSong, the Texas Organizing Project, Mamas of Color Rising, Rise Up/Levanta Texas, and asking the question: What role of assistance can we play as you lead?
We have so, so very much to learn.