Elizabeth Warren. File
Dahleen Glanton, Tribune News Service
Senator Elizabeth Warren has written a new op-ed for Essence magazine, a publication that caters to professional African American women. In the piece published Friday, the Democratic presidential hopeful announced “a new commitment to Black women.”
It is not surprising that Warren, who is polling as low as 4% with African American voters, would reach out to black women. African American women, after all, are the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency and thus, the gatekeepers to the presidential nomination.
Her op-ed and subsequent appearance Saturday at the Essence Festival — an annual music event that draws a half million people to New Orleans, primarily African Americans — introduced the Massachusetts senator to this crucial bloc of voters who largely have dismissed her as “just another white woman running for president.”
But Warren did not come at them in the way they are most accustomed. She didn’t pander to black women’s emotional turmoil over police shootings of their black boys. She did not try to convince black women that she understands the burden of losing a child to violence, struggling to make ends meet or confronting racial bias.
Instead, she came with a plan that not only acknowledges that the playing field is lopsided but relieves black women of the sole responsibility of balancing it. She took the blame off the shoulders of minorities who are deemed less qualified than their white counterparts and put it where it belongs — on the backs of corporations that care more about the bottom line than diversity and racial equality.
For many black women, it was a refreshing introduction to Warren. It set her apart from the party’s first female presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and the four other white women currently seeking the nomination. Certainly, there was nothing wrong with Clinton aligning herself with activist groups such as Mothers of the Movement — the parents of black youths who have been victims of urban violence or slain by police officers. But for professional black women, working-class women and single moms holding down two jobs, there are equally pressing issues involving their ability to earn a decent living.
Warren has said she supports a minimum wage of at least a $15 an hour. Under her plan, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be charged with closely monitoring minority pay in low-wage jobs, such as the service industry. On day one of her administration, Warren wrote in Essence, she would take executive actions to boost wages for women of color and open pathways to leadership. The ideas laid out in the op-ed aren’t new. At the core, they are the same proposals she has promised all of America. They represent her basic values of holding corporations accountable and seeing to it that the interests of the American people take precedence over corporations’ financial profit.
The bottom line is that companies with a bad track record on equal pay and diversity in management would no longer get government contracts. She’d take care of business in Washington, too, by making sure the senior ranks of the federal government look like America and cracking down on systemic discrimination. To accomplish that, she would create minority fellowships and focus job recruitment efforts on colleges with high minority enrollments.
In her six years as a senator, Warren has not focused on African American women. In a field of 20-plus contenders, including a popular black woman, Kamala Harris, Warren’s general message of rebuilding the middle class, strengthening democracy and providing equal justice under the law has not resonated with black voters.
Her challenge is to convince African Americans that they will benefit from her plan to help families build wealth, end voter suppression and eliminate the two-tier justice system that treats whites one way and everybody else another. Voters have heard all that before, and it’s a hard sell.
No one, though, is better positioned to champion the advancement of African American women in the workplace than someone who has spent her entire career going up against big business. That’s something black women would love to see. You can bet they will pay attention.
In a crowded field where a lot of candidates are throwing out promises they cannot possibly fulfill, this is where Warren could break away from the pack.
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