When Professor Anita Hill courageously testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, I was ten years old. Though I could not possibly comprehend all of the political implications of this moment, what I knew was that Professor Hill looked like my mother, and, like Professor Hill, my mother had all kinds of stories about being sexually harassed in the workplace.
Back then, when Hill testified, she faced vitriol and scorn from many sides: from African-Americans who stood with Thomas, fearful that Hill’s testimony and her experiences would bar the only African-American nominee from serving on the Supreme Court; to white feminists who didn’t see race as an issue; to the unbelieving and disapproving questioning by Democratic and Republican men on the Committee; to the media’s constant caricaturing seeped in stereotypes and tired tropes about Black women.
I believed Black women then, I believed Anita Hill then, and I believe her now—just as I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and the growing list of women who have bravely shared their accounts of sexual assault at the hands of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Twenty-seven years later much has changed and yet much has stayed the same. Dr. Ford’s testimony comes at a time where there is greater awareness of the prevalence and impact of sexual discrimination and assault. In the #MeToo era, Black women are a driving force of the progressive movement. More Black women than ever are running for all levels of political office, and Black women are turning out to vote at higher rates than any other ethnic group.
And yet, so much has remained the same, particularly for Black women workers. We cannot talk about the intersection of power and sexual violence in America without talking about Black women’s fight for justice—at home, in the workplace, and in our communities.
50 years ago, Black people were sitting in at lunch counters and conducting freedom rides through the Black Belt, fighting for the rights of Black people to be able to participate in the decisions that impact our lives, and Black women like Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Dorothy Bolden and Rosa Parks were the catalysts for much of the work. They weren’t just fighting for the right to vote–they fought to ensure dignity for our lives. Many would be surprised to know that Rosa Parks’ foray into activism began when her white neighbor threatened to sexually assault her
Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial track record is anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, and anti-reproductive justice. It is the antithesis of all that Black women have fought hard for, and have paid for with our lives. The Republican strategy for the Supreme Court is to uphold an America where the bodies of women, of Black women, are not our own, but exist to be sexualized, abused, and exploited — in our homes, in our workplaces, in public spaces. The culture of sexual violence is interwoven with American culture.
And yet, in the midst of the confirmation process of a nominee who now has more than four allegations of sexual assault against him, we cannot forget that domestic workers, as an invisible workforce toiling away inside homes across the country, are as vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual violence as ever before. According to a new report released by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Institute for Policy Studies, more than a quarter of Black domestic workers in Durham experienced sexual harassment on the job, a number that jumps to 95% when talking about overall workplace concerns in Durham and Atlanta. Therefore, the confirmation of a nominee who is decidedly anti-worker and anti-woman does not bode well for an industry of women workers. As women, we are vulnerable to sexual violence everywhere — and domestic workers are not exempt from that.
What has changed, or perhaps what has stayed the same that is contributing to the changes we seek, is the momentum of Black women and women of color shaping the future of our country. More than 30% of the people who do care work are Black women, the same Black women are the most reliable progressive voters for the Democratic Party. We showed up in Virginia. We showed up in Alabama. And we’re showing up in Georgia and other key states that the future of our democracy is hinging. Yet, Black women still only hold 3.4 percent of elected seats in Congress and just one seat in the entire Senate.
The time for change is past.
Last Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham said to his Democratic colleagues in the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Boy, you guys want power. God, I hope you never get it.” Senator Graham was right: this is about power. Worker rights and protections is about elevating the leadership of Black women. It’s about lifting up the power of domestic workers who do the work that this economy relies on. #MeToo is about empowering girls and women to know that they have the right to control what happens to their bodies, and that no one has the right to use their power to discriminate against or assault them.
It is all about power: correcting the power imbalances that have for too long enabled these injustices to continue. And what is bringing us all together to rise up is that not enough has changed. More than a century later domestic work is still not seen as “work.” Twenty-seven years later and we are still not operating through the critical intersectional feminist lens that can unpack the oppressions—and organizing opportunities—that remain hidden.
Unfortunately for Senator Graham, while we all can’t vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, we can vote in November. Black women have already tipped elections this year in Virginia and Alabama, taking seats that weren’t considered at risk, and those running for public office can no longer ignore the workplace standards of the domestic workforce without losing the vote of Black women voters.
The path to power has been long but by God, Senator Graham, come election day we’re gonna get it.
Alicia Garza is the Strategy + Partnerships Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.