Black Women In Politics Discuss Obstacles They Face, And If They Have Faith In Hillary
Washington, D.C. Our nation’s capital. It is the nucleus of American politics. Where presidents reside during their term and where Democrats and Republicans debate (and manipulate) the passing of federal laws in Congress
Washington, D.C. Where “We the people…” is uprooted from the pages of the Constitution, and every day, from Capitol Hill to the White House, politicians and their staffers are working to serve the people of the United States. However, there is one question that is tossed around in the white male-dominated world of politics when politically advantageous. How can the system adequately serve Black and brown people? And, in particular, Black women?
Black women are underrepresented in legislative halls. According to the 30-page report compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and the Higher Heights Leadership Fund, Black women are 7.4% of the U.S. population and 7.8% of the electorate. However, there are only 14 Black women in Congress (2.6%), two Black women in statewide elected executive office, 241 Black women in state legislatures (3.3%), and 26 Black women mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (1.9%). Two black women serve as mayors of two of the 100 largest cities in the United States.
Black women are 2.7% of the 74 women in statewide executive offices, and 25% of all eight African-Americans holding statewide elected executive positions. Currently, there are 20 women serving as U.S. Senators of which none are Black women.
Although the number of Black women serving as elected officials is disturbingly low, there are young Black women in politics working to change those numbers and make history.
Lillian*, 33, holds both a Master of Business Administration and a Juris Doctor degree. She is currently serving as legislative counsel for a state-level official. “My goal is to run for office in my home state,” she says. “I feel it is the best way to touch and make changes that assist those who are underserved. One political platform that I stand by is to always remember who I am truly working for. Some people get lost and forget the actual reason for their job. It’s to make life better for those who are in need.”
Samantha*, 32, holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and is currently serving as a policy advisor for a federal elected official. Samantha reflects on why she chose to follow a career path in politics.
“As an adult, I realized that every successful person I knew was successful because they made ethically and politically sound decisions. I wanted to change the world, and I wanted to do something to impact not only my community, but the lives of my unborn children. My job isn’t exactly glamorous, but I see the impact that my actions have on those around me.”
Camilla*, 31, holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and is currently serving as the manager of communications and external affairs for a nonprofit social service and civil rights organization. Camilla firmly believes that our current political system needs fixing, and she is dedicated to working to help fix the problems. “I stand for a platform that focuses on some aspect of justice system reform to include ending mass incarceration; and also for a platform that focuses on the economy and access to wealth.”
Though these women are extremely qualified for their positions, they did not get to where they are now without opposition. “There have been so many stigmas for being a black woman in politics,” Lillian said. “One is that some perceive you to be less intelligent than your coworkers. We are placed in administrative roles, or roles that have no connection to our actual degree and or desire. I have personally had people attack me in the workplace then cry that I was the ‘angry black woman’ when I didn’t agree with what they may have said or done. I was once also told that I didn’t get a promotion because the elected official I was working for at the time didn’t want a black woman representing him or being the face of his office. I was told I could help by giving my contacts and access to my network, and to my Caucasian male coworker who was not qualified for the position.”
Samantha, too, recalls times she has been discriminated against in the pursuit of her career goals in politics. “The federal government is very much still a ‘good ole boys club,’” she attests.
But in spite of the many obstacles and tests, Black women have proven throughout history to be resilient and steadfast. It is evident that these young Black women are continuing that legacy in the hopes of bringing about real change.
As President Obama’s term prepares to come to an end, the country is heading into another season of heavy campaigning. Hillary Clinton announced her 2016 presidential bid, and her announcement has fueled talk of the history that she could make. If she is successful, she will be the first woman to obtain a major party’s nomination, and, of course, if she wins the election she will be the first woman to become president. This is a major moment for women and feminists alike. But the feminist movement has historically fought for the needs of white women. Will Black women have a place in this historic moment if Clinton takes office? Will our needs be met? Will our voices be heard?
Lillian is in full support of Clinton’s campaign having had the privilege of working for her when she was a United States Senator. She considers Clinton to be one of the best political figures she has worked for in her career. “I think Hillary is going to ensure that women, regardless of color, are able to break through the glass ceiling. She is a symbol of hope for all women.”
Samantha isn’t as convinced. “Folks are going to hate me for this, but you asked. I do not think Hillary Clinton is who the nation needs as a president right now. I admire her as a woman, and I’m quite impressed with her. However, she will not help Blacks as a whole. The affluent Blacks would benefit from her presidency, but lower class Blacks would not. In press interviews, she always uses third world countries or lower class New York citizens as her paradigm for the poor. I do not believe she has any idea how to handle the struggles of poor, rural, mostly Southern Blacks.”
Camilla has suggestions for how Clinton’s campaign can convince Black voters (like Samantha) that she is the right person to hold office. “She will have to open up at some point in her campaign in order to really speak to the majority of voters’ pathos. But for Black women in particular she will have to show overall care and concern for the Black community as a whole. Economic empowerment is a gateway to furthering change in the Black community and the country at large.”
We are living in a time where social unrest is having a domino affect in major cities across the nation. We are in need of political leaders who are selfless and truly have a heart for serving the people. It is inexcusable the lack of Black representation we have in politics, especially the lack of Black women who hold political offices. We must get to the polls and vote so that Black women like Lillian, Samantha, and Camilla, the future of politics and women who are ready to fight against social injustice and fight for our economic equality, can make their voices, and the voices of our community heard. Black women in politics are ready to serve their community, “We the people…” have to do our part and vote to get them in office.