Stories from Political Issues

Black Women Are Routinely Denied Positions of Power in America—and There Are Consequences

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsJune 6, 2020

Thumbnail for Black Women Are Routinely Denied Positions of Power in America—and There Are Consequences
Pin It
Photo: Stocksy/BONNINSTUDIO

The United States has never had a Black woman governor. There have only been five Black women cabinet members in 244 years of American history. Of the 12,348 individuals who have been elected to the U.S. Congress, only 47 of them have been Black women (the first of whom was elected in 1964). And only two Black women have served as U.S. senators. Positions of power at the highest level—namely, the presidency and vice presidency—have shut out women altogether, having been held exclusively by white men (save for Barack Obama).

The blatant lack of diversity among people who hold the most influence and power in the United States government means that the interests and needs of Black people are too often ignored. “Women of color offer perspectives reflecting the intersection of race and gender that are distinct from those of white women and men of color,” reads a 2017 report from Rutgers University. For the most part, though, America hasn’t gotten to see what leaders with those very perspectives would do.

Shirley Chisholm, PhD, for example, became the first Black woman in Congress in 1968. In 1972, though, her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination—also a first—was quickly snuffed out by prejudiced rules that kept her from participating in the television election. A reporter from The New York Times wrote that “even some of Mrs. Chisolm’s admirers conceded privately that she had two strikes—her sex and her race—against her.” We will never know what pain and anguish her policies and legacy may have prevented for the Black community.

The same could be said for all the times Black women weren’t elected to the senate. Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman senator, serving in Illinois between 1993 and 1999, commented that she didn’t want her election to be symbolic of race relations in America; she wanted it to be symbolic of action. “[M]y job is emphatically not to be a celebrity or a full-time symbol. Symbols will not create jobs and economic growth. They do not do the hard work of solving the health care crisis. They will not save the children of our cities from drugs and guns and murder,” she told Chicago Tribune

“Symbols will not create jobs and economic growth. They do not do the hard work of solving the health care crisis. They will not save the children of our cities from drugs and guns and murder.” —Carol Moseley Braun

In the judicial branch, a Black woman has never even been nominated let alone appointed to the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, former vice president and presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden promised he would appoint one if he wins the election on November 3. If he follows through, it’s a move that would offer more than 21 million Black women in the United States someone who’s interpreting and enforcing the laws of this nation through the eyes of someone who’s experienced racial injustice first-hand.

It’s too little, far too late. But if the function of leadership is to bring justice to the population of those being led by understanding their experiences, the lack of Black women in positions of power throughout American history tells a pretty clear story. A future of diverse leaders in America means a future of senators, justices, presidents, and congresswomen who aren’t predominately white men. Which is why voting (now and always) should be a question to determine the best leader—not just for me, but for everyone.

For more information about how to register to vote in your state, click here.

Loading More Posts...