The first viable woman candidate for president facing off against a noted misogynist has ensured that the will of women voters will be a deciding factor in this year’s election. However, within this critical voting block there is a group that stands out even more: Black women.
The power of Black women voters is undeniable. We’ve turned out to vote in higher numbers than any other ethnic, racial or gender group in the past two presidential elections. The numbers show our participation is growing every time we elect our country’s leader. And there is no indication that this year will be any different.
So, if Black women really wield this incredible electoral power, why are people trying to tell us that the greatest contribution we can make to American politics is to vote? Shouldn’t we be using our strength for even greater things?
Look, I get the importance of making sure Black women show up on election day. We’re going to be an important part of electing our first woman president and preventing a bigot from occupying the White House.
But as we rally Black women to make sure our voices are heard by voting, we need to take it a step further. We need to identify talented Black women who would make incredible leaders and encourage them to become the candidates Black women voters then put into office. It’s time to stop thinking of Black women as just an important electorate and start thinking of them as both an important electorate and a pool of potential candidates.
America desperately needs the leadership of Black women that is currently missing in our government. Unfortunately, Black women are now, and have always been, severely underrepresented at every level of office in the United States.
Despite making up 7.4 percent of the total population, Black women make up just 3.4 percent of Congress and less than 1 percent of statewide elected executive officials. Black women are just 260 of the 7,383 state legislators working nationwide and 1.9 percent of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000.
In fact, only four Black women serve as mayor of one of the 100 largest cities in the United States. And even with those abysmal numbers, Black women are less likely to be encouraged to run for office, and are more likely to be discouraged from running, than Black men and white women. And it’s not because we’re less capable or eager to work hard for our communities.
Black women have been trailblazers, community leaders, and fighters for change throughout U.S. history. As officials, there’s a great deal that we bring to the table. We are able to prioritize the issues that matter most to our communities. Studies have shown that Black women tend to support progressive policies surrounding education, health care and economic development that are uniquely influenced by the intersection of our race and gender.
It’s not to say there aren’t difficulties for Black women who decide to run. We’re more likely to face some hurdles, especially when it comes to raising money as we tend to represent less wealthy districts. But the obstacles are not insurmountable and if there’s one thing Black women do best, it’s overcome.
The perspectives and priorities that arise from being both Black and a woman in the United States can only be fully advocated for by Black women, meaning that a lack of political representation has left us voiceless in many communities. The good news is that we have the proven power to change that. By encouraging, supporting and training Black women to run, we can close the gap and truly make a difference – even if it’s just one seat or one district at a time.
Recently, a significant number of current and former Black women candidates and elected officials have shared the reasons they decided to run for office on social media as part of Emerge America’s #WhySheRuns campaign. Their stories are so inspiring and their voices are urgently needed in government. Many of these women decided to run to fix problems that directly impact Black communities. All want to be a voice for the voiceless.
#WhySheRuns wants to tell Black women: It’s great people are telling you to vote! But look at the candidates on your ballot. Do they look like you? Do they share your experiences and struggles? Will they represent you well, if elected? No? Well do something about it and run!
You don’t have to look any further for proof of what Black women can achieve when they step forward and run than Kentucky State Representative-Elect Attica Scott. Last spring, Scott beat her incumbent opponent – a white male who had occupied the seat for 34 years – to become the first Black woman to be elected to the Kentucky State Legislature in 20 years. She’s poised to make a difference and fiercely advocate for her community – but she also plans on making sure that more women of color are running for office in Kentucky and beyond.
It’s important that more women like Attica Scott to stand up, take the plunge and run. But it’s equally important for all of us to seek them out, stand with them and lift them up. Harnessing the political power of black women is about more than making sure they vote. It’s about making sure that they’re on the ballot too.
A’shanti F. Gholar is the Political Director for Emerge America, the only organization dedicated to recruiting, training, and empowering Democratic women to run for public office.