Black women in politics: Claiming our seat at the table

Greg Nash


Women of color ran for congressional office in record numbers in 2020 following the successful 2018 “Year of the Women” midterm elections. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Black women set a record with 117 candidates entering House primaries, demonstrating that Black women are leading change in our communities on every issue from the environment, to health care, to the concerns that disproportionately impact communities of color. With 27 Black women expected to lead in the 117th Congress, the legislative branch moves one step closer to representing the makeup of our nation. Although we have made progress in political representation, our work is far from over. 

In the same year that we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 15th Amendment, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) became the first Black and South Asian woman to ascend to the vice presidency, making her the highest-ranking woman in politics. In her first remarks as vice president-elect, Harris emphatically proclaimed, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” For Black women and girls everywhere, Vice President-elect Harris’s rise to the highest levels of government redefines the possibilities for women of color and broadens their horizons for political ambitions. 

When Black women are at the table, the conversation changes on policies that impact our communities. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, women of color, particularly Black women and Latinas, are disproportionately impacted by the economic crisis brought on by this pandemic, making it a “she-cession.” Furthermore, the spread of COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing racial and economic inequalities impacting our most vulnerable communities. As the only Black woman in Michigan’s congressional delegation, I can tell you that representation matters when we are working to address this pandemic’s impact on our marginalized communities and how government can work for all of us.

Black women delivered the most significant victory in presidential politics, showing up and showing out for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Yet, despite this, Black women remain underrepresented in elected office around the country. Black women make up nearly 7.6 percent of the U.S. population, yet they make up less than 5 percent of individuals elected to statewide executive offices, Congress and state legislatures, according to a report produced by the Center for American Women in Politics and Higher Heights Leadership Fund.

Black women’s political representation matters. We need voices in the room to reflect the needs of our diverse communities to ensure we are addressing challenges such as maternal mortality, affordable access to health care, voting rights, economic security, education and much more. Black female leaders bring attention to different public policy issues and different approaches to problem solving. On the 50th Anniversary of Shirley Chisholm running for Congress, Black women made history across this country by running and winning in the 2018 election, and built upon that success by increasing our representation in 2020. We must continue with this progress and empower Black women to be the change that our communities need. With this golden opportunity to fight for our rights, it is our responsibility to ensure Black women have a seat at the table.

Lawrence currently serves as a co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus, second vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and is a member of both the House Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

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