HomeLearning CenterReclaiming My Time: Why We Need to Address the Systemic Barriers Faced by Black Women in Politics

Reclaiming My Time: Why We Need to Address the Systemic Barriers Faced by Black Women in Politics

Originally published by Marvelous Maeze for Ms. Magazine

As a Black woman, witnessing other Black women in elected roles is not only significant, but powerful. Signifying transformative progress, it goes beyond mere resemblance: it’s a recognition of our challenges, our resilience and our capacity to drive successful outcomes in this nation.

Throughout history, Black women have faced marginalization, dismissal and underestimation. We’ve had to fight twice as hard to gain half as much recognition, to be viewed as capable leaders, and to have our voices heard in decision-making forums. When I witness Black women breaking through these barriers to assume positions of influence in government, it reaffirms our determination and strength.

My work as a research associate with RepresentWomen has been conflicting at times. Often, tried and true methodologies have had the unintended outcome of being biased, exclusionary or reductive. This starts at the educational level. The way that we learn about politics excludes Black women. If we are included, we are lumped together with all women of color. So, it’s no wonder we take a monolithic approach to researching non-white women in politics. However, to effectuate meaningful change, we must employ a nuanced approach that focuses exclusively on the barriers that Black women candidates face. From this, we can suggest actionable solutions to increase the representation of Black women in US politics.

Seeing a Black woman elected, whether to a local council, a state office or a senatorial seat, evokes a sense of pride and optimism within me. I understand that she likely encountered countless hurdles and criticisms along her path, yet she persisted and attained a platform where she could effect change. Representation holds profound importance as it signals to young Black girls and women that leadership roles are within their reach. It validates their ambitions and underscores that despite obstacles, they possess the capability to achieve greatness. It’s a message of empowerment and potential.

The election of Vice President Kamala Harris marked a transformative moment for many of us. Witnessing a Black and South Asian woman ascend to such a high office was not only historic but also motivating. It shattered stereotypes and demonstrated to the world that Black women are fully capable of leading at the highest echelons of government. It also reminded us that the fight for gender and racial equity can not end because of one victory. 

Our need for representation spans across all levels, from local boards to national governing bodies like Congress. Each Black woman in a position of influence lays a foundation for others and brings a unique perspective to the discourse. We stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm, Mia Love and Stacey Abrams. Our lived experiences, challenges, and aspirations merit attention and action in the policies that shape our societies and country.

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