In the midst of Georgia’s midterm elections, Stacey Abrams strikes a balance between realism and hope: It Has Been a Moment

The first Black woman governor in US history would be Stacy Abrams (center), if she succeeds in her bid for governor of Georgia. Political scholar Christina Greer (right) contrasts Abrams with other historically significant Black women leaders.

Image from Dr. Christina Greer; photo illustration by Kaz Fantone; Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images; Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg through Getty Images. Stacey Abrams has experienced a lot of firsts over the years.

In the Georgia General Assembly, she was the first woman in a minority leadership position. the first Black person to hold the top position for her party in the Louisiana House of Representatives. The first Black woman to run for governor with a major party was then elected four years prior.

Prior to that historic 2018 campaign, which drew support and criticism from well outside of Georgia, the majority of us had never heard of Abrams. Abrams rose to prominence among Democrats and emerged as a poster child for the fight against voter suppression during a year in which there were a record number of women seeking elected office.

Party hopefuls were upset by her narrow defeat to current governor Brian Kemp. But it only slightly made her slower. Abrams later founded Fair Fight Action, a voting rights advocacy group, which later brought a lawsuit against Georgia’s electoral process. (Last Monday, a federal judge pronounced an ruled in favor of the state, stating that Georgia’s election procedures did not infringe upon the constitutional rights of voters.) She created a documentary about the nation’s history of denying Black people the opportunity to vote, which was nominated for an Oscar. She was mentioned as President Joe Biden’s potential running mate in 2020.

In his second attempt to win the governorship, Abrams is now aiming for history once more. She has four years of coalition-building experience as well as the knowledge gained by campaigning for a statewide post this time. Will it be sufficient to make her the first Black woman governor in the nation?

In her first appearance as the show’s new host, Brittany Luse chats to Stacey Abrams on the benefits and drawbacks of being an icon, how winning will change Deep South politics, and how she strikes a balance between realism and hope.

Then Brittany invites Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer to talk about Abrams’ strategy and how the former minority leader is similar to other historically significant Black women politicians.

The whole episode is available on the Spotify or Apple Podcasts channels, as well as at the top of the page. For the sake of length and clarity, these excerpts have been altered.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INTERVIEW: Being an incarnation of people’s hopes

Judith Luse: Once more, you are so close to being the first Black woman governor in American history. However, in 2018, you were a newcomer on the national stage, and now it would be an understatement to say that you are well-known and, to many, an icon. This savior-hood component that I’ve seen others project onto you would be a lot for me. For you, is that a lot?

Abrams, Stacey Consequently, a recent report said that I had lost my magic. The “Black girl magic” story has always made me uncomfortable because it assumes that voters lack agency. And it gives me virtually messianic obligations that I didn’t request, won’t accept, and won’t carry out. There is no way for me to return to who I was in ’18, when people knew who I was and cared about me. And I don’t want to since doing so will undo all of our accomplishments.

It is not my duty to find solutions for everyone’s issues. It is intended to assist in removing obstacles and utilizing state resources to address the underlying, fundamental issues that prevent individuals from having access to opportunity, good employment opportunities, education, health care, and housing. I can assure you that I will assist with such things, but I will never be so conceited as to think that I alone am accountable or have delivered.

An avatar I am. And individuals pour both their loves and their hatred into avatars.
Regarding how women’s political environment has altered since 2018

Luse: The year 2018 was a pretty special time. One year had passed since the #MeToo movement. Additionally, more women were not only registering to vote but also running for office. While some tendencies are continuing into 2022, we are already having discussions about abortion and women’s rights that haven’t really occurred since 1973. I therefore ponder whether “the year of the woman” has poor branding.

Abrams: Branded years are aspirational to witness. It is pragmatic. And occasionally it uses a very broad concept to try to address a variety of problems. In this election year, the problem is not a lack of excitement or energy, but rather a lack of trust. For almost 50 years, we have placed our protection in the hands of our institutions. And yet, those safeguards have been completely eliminated. We believed that the institutions served to represent our needs and ideals. Nevertheless, we have been informed that your geographic location affects the quality of your citizenship. You may or may not have the protection to care for your own body depending on the state in which you reside. If you live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, getting an abortion is almost impossible.

The notion that a year is a “year of the woman” because of the political concerns that are stirred up or the candidates that are elected shows that not every year is the year of the woman. that we shouldn’t get ladies engaged every year. that there isn’t an existential assault on women’s freedom to go through venues every year. It is simplistic and reductionist, but there are moments when it is vital to concentrate. However, when it serves as a diversion from the real issues at hand—namely, the fact that women’s rights are frequently entirely dependent on who wins an election—that is when our society should be most energized.

Luse: What would you chose to call the current period if you had to name it?

“Unfinished business,” says Abrams. On a number of areas, we still have unfinished business. Women’s rights, or at least women’s sovereignty over their bodies, are an unfinished business. Still a problem is racial justice. It’s unfinished business if voter suppression keeps resurfacing and if it persists in meddling with our elections. I want law enforcement to support keeping my community secure while we wrestle with how to discuss the twin roles of responsibility and safety. My parents should be able to call for assistance and have someone respond. But I also want my brothers to drive without concern about being black.

We therefore have unfinished business in our nation on a general level. But the dazzling thing draws our attention away. Or, even worse, we succumb to the ongoing inability to find a lasting solution to these issues. And I don’t guarantee that we’ll complete it by 2022. However, we must at least return to the story’s main theme and emphasize that there is work to be done, work that can be accomplished if we don’t lose faith in the notion that the system we are a part of still has to answer to us.

Changing South African politics
Luse: How might the political landscape of the Deep South change if Stacey Abrams were elected governor of Georgia in 2022?

Abrams: The implications for the Deep South are seismic. The governor is a very influential position in Georgia. I explain it to people by saying that a governor, not a president, signed Stand Your Ground. A governor, not the White House or Congress, was the catalyst for the social safety net’s destruction. Southern governors were the source of Jim Crow and its end result. So what does it mean to have a governor from the South whose grandpa was born 25 years after the abolition of slavery? I bring a legacy and a perspective that promise me I’ll work harder than anyone has ever had to in order to live up to the legacy and the opportunities I’ve been given.

Regarding Abrams’ background and black ethnicity

Candida Greer In my opinion, it’s crucial to recall that “former U.S. Rep.” Barbara Jordan, “civil rights warrior” Stacey Abrams, and “Black American” Fannie Lou Hamer were all Black Americans. I do consider the influence of ethnicity as someone who wrote the book Black Ethnics . Shirley Chisholm, then Guyanese. Jamaican-Indian Kamala Harris. Kenyan and Kansas native Barack Obama. It is not lost on me that they are not Black Americans when we consider those who are able to appear on such a grand scale. Additionally, this does not promote division. I do believe that there is still some unresolved conflict in the binary connection between white people and Black people who are the offspring of American chattel slavery.

Luse: Please elaborate.

Greer: Similar to when others ask, “Oh, where are you from?” “Oh, I’m from Detroit,” it’s like that. “No, from whence are you?” “Louisiana, then Detroit” is how it sounds. And it’s virtually nowhere. Oh, I’m Black, that’s all. Thus, as you may recall, in college, we simply said, “The JBs are us. We identify as “simply Blacks.” “right? Because everyone else is just like Bermuda, Guyana, or whatever.

Luse: How does Stacey Abrams’ status as a “JB” affect how people perceive and interpret her?

Greer: It does, in my opinion, offer you a perspective on what this nation is and what she can be to be a descendent of American chattel slavery. I inquired about the pursuit of the American dream and its viability during the study for my book, Black Ethnics. The data revealed to me that Black Americans are aware of the identity of this nation. You have both wins and losses. Literally, that is what everyone kept repeating.

So it’s like, “Hey, you might wind up attending a high university and obtaining a fantastic position at NPR.” You might get arrested for possessing marijuana, whereupon the rest of your life would become history. This nation always acts in that manner. We’ve observed it. Either you have every success or none at all.

Many Black Americans, Stacey Abrams among them, have a basic understanding of what this nation is and what it might become. think our nation has the potential to produce some very fantastic things. And it takes effort. We are devoted to a nation that, as James Baldwin said, is not necessarily devoted to us. Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, and Stacey Abrams come to mind when I consider the definition of a patriot—not, as we’re sort of taught in elementary school, flag-waving on a horse. I consider these three women to be the patriots I aspire to be when I consider what they have done and are still doing to save this country from herself, to make her a better version of herself, and to make her live up to all the documents that are so beautifully, crisply written from years and years prior.

I describe Stacey Abrams as a pragmatic progressive because of this. She doesn’t appear to be saying, “I’m creating a utopia.” She is using the information we have and is aware of the capacities and constraints of various persons inside the state of Georgia in order to proceed. She is also pressuring them to consider an alternative vision. Additionally, it doesn’t simply affect Whites and Blacks. It offers a comprehensive picture of what Georgians would want.

On the chances of winning and the price of losing

Luse: Two other Black women, one in Alabama and the other in Iowa, are running for governor alongside Stacey Abrams. Do you think a Black woman will be elected governor in 2022?

Greer: Although I’d really like to see it, a lot of what I teach my students is about separating what you desire from what you think will happen. I don’t really understand Alabama’s and Iowa’s ground game, so I can’t really comment to them. The biggest chance I’ve sort of seen to see a Black female governor is, in my opinion, represented by Stacey and her team. Not all of their eggs are in the Atlanta basket. They are aware that this is a state-wide plan.

Let’s be clear, though. When Brian Kemp was secretary of state and ran for governor, it was like having the officials on the field as teammates. It makes me feel bad that he still has some influence over the voting procedures and the conduct of a free and fair election.

Luse: There was a law passed in Georgia last year, notably in the area of voting, that I believe some would argue took back a lot of the gains made in 2020.

Greer: I believe that the press must present the stories in their current form. I remember reading about a 90-year-old Black woman standing in line for 10 hours to vote for Obama in a Georgian newspaper back in 2008. Isn’t it lovely?

No, it isn’t lovely. Voter dissent is the issue. It’s unfortunate that anyone must wait in line for ten hours, much less a Black woman in her 90s. This is a tale of voting suppression. This account of egregious fraud in the voting process is told. There are other towns where people rarely wait more than ten minutes, much less ten hours, and if they do, heads start to roll. Therefore, I believe that we should just be conscious of the class and racial components in the narratives we’re presenting, “Isn’t this thrilling, oh yes? To vote for Stacey, people stand in line for hours.” But no, it really shouldn’t be the case that voters supporting Stacey must stand in line for an eternity.

Luse: If Stacey Abrams loses once more, what will it cost?

Greer: Yeah, I hope it doesn’t discourage individuals who were really inspired to believe that this system is crooked and that they shouldn’t take part. That is something I sincerely hope is not the case. Hey, sometimes your candidate doesn’t win, Stacey Abrams has told voters. That does not imply that you leave democracy forever and pack up your marbles. It doesn’t function like that. However, if a first-time voter’s candidate loses the election the first time and they feel a great deal of disappointment, it is vitally important to win them over so they don’t think this is it. Because doing so ensures that nothing will change in the future. Therefore, I believe that some mending will be necessary.

But Stacey Abrams is also saying, as we saw after 2018 “Okay, pick yourself up. Let’s resume our job now.” Whether she doesn’t win in November, let’s just say; I have no idea if she will run again. However, I would wager a year’s pay that she wouldn’t simply say, “Woe is me,” and vanish from the public eye. She’s done so much work in the state, in fact, that I really believe she wouldn’t even be aware of how to use that tactic. Simply saying, “OK, well, we figure out a different plan on how to perform the work,” is how I envision it going down.

Barton Girdwood, Liam McBain, Jessica Mendoza, Janet Woojeong Lee, and Jamila Huxtable produced this episode of “It’s Been a Minute.” Magdalena Luthar and Jay Czys provided engineering assistance. Editor Jessica Placzek worked on it. Veralyn Williams is our executive producer, Yolanda Sangweni is our vice president of programming, and Anya Grundmann is our senior vice president of programming. You can send us an email at ibam@npr.org or follow us on Twitter at @npritsbeenamin.