Black women are one of the most influential demographics in American Politics. Whether it's organizing voters, advocating for policies or running for office, black women's political power is finally being recognized in various ways. And with the election of Vice President Harris, the nation seems to be wrestling with the possibility of a black woman being elected as the President of the United States of America.
There have been at least 12 black women that have run for the President of the United States. Vice President Kamala Harris, the Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the Honorable Barbara Jordan, the Honorable Carol Mosley Braun, Lenora Fulani, Isabell Masters, Monica Gail Moorehead, Cynthia McKinney, Angel Joy Chavis Rocker, Charlene Mitchell, Margaret Wright and Peta Lindsay have all made attempts serve in the highest office of the land. These candidates range in politics, party and priorities. But one thing that they have in common is they had tried to run against a political machine aimed for them to remain unseen and unheard, not the President. These women and others help provide some insight to the kind of environment that black women face when trying to run for President. Also, this insight helps to inform the public about the ways that our nation must change in order for a black woman to be successful during and after a campaign for President of the United States of America.
It's no secret that black women face specific barriers in gaining access to public office, mainly due to the ways that misogynoir shows up in politics. Misogynoir is misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. Scholar Moya Bailey coined the term and describes misogynoir as "where racism and sexism meet, an understanding of anti-Black misogyny."
Like every system, misogynoir shows up in our political system. Barriers like access to political capital, racist and sexist ideas around what an elected official “looks like '' and media bias towards black women can all play a role in making it harder for black women to successfully run for office at a grand level. Even when black women do persist through misogynoir and get elected, they are not shielded from the ways that the rhetoric shows up while in office. Oftentimes, black women elected officials are held to a different standard, voices are being marginalized and are treated so poorly that they decided it's better to step down from office, misogynoir is the only explanation.
Black Women in public office are not strangers to mistreatment while trying to best advocate for their communities. In 2018, Congresswoman Emilia Sykes, who is now running for Congress, spoke out against the discrimination that she faced when attempting to enter the statehouse and was told she didn't “Look like a legislator.” Congressman Nikema Williams of Georgia was wrongfully arrested as a state legislator for standing up for voting rights. A similar thing happened to Representative Park Cannon of Georgia when she was wrongfully arrested for knocking on the Governor of Georgia's door regarding voting rights as well. Representative Attica Scott, who is also running for Congress, and her daughter were wrongfully arrested at a protest advocating for Breonna Taylor. The specific harassment that elected black women are faced with even caused the Honorable Kiah Morris of Vermont to step away from public office.. Oftentimes people that are fed up with the ways things have been going are asked to run for office. But how is it that when black women run and win public office, they are subjected to mistreatment while training to do the right thing?
In order to create an environment where a black woman could be elected as President of the United States of America, the country must come to terms with the conditions that black women have to deal with, especially while running for office. We must all be intentional about the ways to show up for these candidates and how we treat them post campaigns. Groups like Win With Black Women and Higher Heights for America work to make sure that black women are supported, funded and have a base of support that can negate any fake news and unfair treatment. Others must follow their lead and make sure that there is equity in our election process, and nation overall.
Contrary to its misuse,a black feminists group called the Combahee River Collective coined the term identity politics. In their Combahee River Collective Statement, they shared that “we believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression.” This matters because black women that sit in the margin of inequality are best equipped to solve the most pressing issues of our time. In a representative government, it's necessary that black women ascend to state wide and executive positions within our government.
With that, any black woman that wishes to serve as the President of the United States must lead with truth. This leader has to also lead with an equity mindset and surround themselves with the people that can help shape a winning platform. She must take each demographic seriously and develop authentic relationships with these communities. They must communicate early and often with folks at the margins, and stick to their word, every word! Black Women that are currently elected must do this as well, as this will help all communities see them as trusted leaders and viable suiters for the President. When people begin and continue to connect with these leaders, people can believe in a black woman's ability to co-govern with them as the President of the United States of America.
In closing, imagine if a black woman that subscribed to black feminist politics was elected to the highest office in our nation? This kind of leader would understand why it's important to prioritize universal child care, equitable health care and free quality education. This leader could center gender based violence and reproductive justice solutions in a way that no other President has been able to do. This leader would likely be able to emphasize with folks that have been unseen by politicians for far too long.
We cannot afford to continue to overlook black women, as essential voters, and essential advocates and, yes, as essential candidates as well. We must level the playing field for black women like our Democracy depends on it, because it does.
“I have learned over the years that
when one’s mind is made up, this
diminishes fear; knowing what must be
done does away with fear.” Rosa Parks