Black women lack political representation

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Black women are one of the most underrepresented groups in American government. This discrepancy comes as no surprise; black women are often stereotyped as angry, uneducated and incapable of participating in politics. This election season represents a shift, with Michelle Obama’s powerful statements and 38 black women serving on Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff. Still, these are only building blocks to providing black women the political representation and policy changes they deserve.

In 2015, black women made up 7.4 percent of the American population. According to a report published by Rutgers, however, only 3.4 percent of Congress and 3.5 percent of state legislators are made up of black women. Furthermore, there has never been a black woman state governor. This stark divide speaks to just how little representation this population receives.

Black women, as well as other women of color, have often pushed gender to the side to focus on the racial fight for equality. Currently, this shows in the Black Lives Matter movement. While there is some focus on female victims of police brutality, the more popular hashtags overwhelmingly support male victims. This is significant because the founders of Black Lives Matter are three women.

“Historically, movements for racial justice have often framed the question of equality as one that could be answered by men,” Professor of History at Georgetown University Marcia Chatelain said in an interview with Dissent magazine. “From the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement, many of the key issues were framed around concerns that racial injustice harmed masculinity.”

Though there may be fewer female victims of homicide, there is evidence that race-based violence impacts them in different ways. Much of the violence committed against women occurs outside of the public sphere. This includes domestic violence and sexual assault, which happen in homes and detention centers nationwide. Still, black women actively push for equality.

While the growth rates of white women in office have flat lined, the rates for black women have been on a steady uptick. The high number of women in Clinton’s campaign should not be attributed to her radical acceptance, but to these women’s drives. Despite heavy marginalization from nearly every demographic, black women continue to make great strides.

As participants in the political system, it is our responsibility to consider anyone as a viable candidate for political office, regardless of race or gender. In politics, racism is most damaging at the structural level; it is non-violent, but inherently restricts the rights of certain individuals. Black women continue to fight to be heard, and we must stop and listen to what they are trying to say.

“What lessons are [our little girls] learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations?” Obama said in a recent campaign speech. Until each level of American politics reflects the people living in this country, black girls receive the implicit message that they are worth less.

Kathryne LeBell is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]