Black Women Expanding Our Power as Political Candidates From City Hall to The White House

Krystal Leaphart

Advocacy Co-Lead, Black Girls Vote

It is no secret that Black Women are one of the most important political demographics in our country. According to the “Black Women Did That: A Call to Invest in the Civic Health of Black Women in America” report, Black women had the highest voting percentage in local elections in 2018. Additionally, the Reaching Higher: Black Women in American Politics in 2021 report shows that a record number of black women ran and won congressional office. Stacey Abrams (D-GA) became the first Black woman major-party nominee for governor in the U.S. and Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black, and the first South Asian Vice president of the United States of America. These victories are important because black women are being seen as viable candidates from public office, from the federal level to local office. And while these victories have shown us the possibilities, there are plenty of opportunities as well. There are zero black women serving in the United States Senate, black women are severely underrepresented in statewide positions, and according to the No Democracy Without Black Women report, black women are not properly represented in state legislatures across the nation. 

As we prepare for the upcoming elections, it is important to explore what are the barriers that keep black women from achieving equitable representation in public office? We know that there are general factors that make it harder for black women to run for office. For example, fundraising barriers and personal capacity are main reasons why they may have a harder time running for office. The reality is systematic issues contribute to the underrepresentation of Black women in public office. Misogynoir is misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias, and it shows up in black girlhood, political campaigns and especially when black women are in public office.

If we want to do a better job at recruiting black women to run for office, we must first start with reimagining black girlhood and black youthhood, overall. Black girls are subject to bias and stereotypes that can manifest into self-doubt and confidence gaps. And black girls that grow into confident black women are bombarded with messages that they must shrink in order to be successful. No wonder that women, especially black women, have to be asked many times before they even consider running for office. 

In addition to addressing the ways we judge black girlhood and womanhood, we must also reimagine how campaigns operate for black women. Currently, white men are 30% of the population, but serve as 62% of the officeholders. They are dominating 42 state legislatures and both chambers of Congress. It is clear that our campaign process favors people that fit certain race, gender, and income profiles. What can we do to shift the way campaigns are run and won to make elected officials more accessible to all kinds of black women? For starters, campaign staff can make sure the candidate’s platform speaks to the needs of groups at the margins, calls out media bias early and often, and ensures that the staff is trained and ready to fight any misogynoir that shows up for the candidate. 

As we work towards an electorate that takes black women candidates seriously, and campaigns that work for black women, there must be a shift in the way that black women are treated when they are elected. 

By nature, black women elected officials cover a large number of concerns, since the systems of racism and sexism extend to so many other areas of inequality. Those that run and win, however, still have the burdens that come with being a black woman. They are still seen as intimidating, as the “help” or as invisible. For example, Congresswoman Nikema Williams of Georgia was wrongfully arrested as a state legislator for standing up for voting rights. Additionally, Congresswoman Emilia Sykes spoke out against the discrimination that she faces when attempting to enter the Ohio statehouse as a legislator and was told she did not “Look like a legislator.”  The specific harassment that elected black women are faced with even caused the Honorable Kiah Morris of Vermont to step away from public office. 

Black Women are more than a voting bloc to “save the country”, they must also be seen as the people to help change the laws as elected officials as well. But that will only happen with intentional shifting in how we see, run, and support black women. If there is any chance to change our country, black women hold the key. But it is up to everyone else to make sure they make it to the room.