The Plight of the African-American Woman in Politics

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Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are Caucasian women who have made a name for themselves in the male-dominated political arena, but the political role models for African-American women are significantly fewer. However, African-American women who are currently in the 113th Congress and running for various political positions around the country seek to change that.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, of the 538 members of Congress in the 113th Congress, 43 are African-American, and of that, 13 are African-American women, who all serve in the House of Representative. Only 30 African-American women have served in the United States Congress, the first was Shirley Chisholm, who first served in 1969 as a Representative from New York. The first and only African American woman Senator is Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun, who served from 1993 to 1999 for the state of Illinois.

Also according to the center, of the 75 women who hold executive offices in the United States, two are African-American. There has never been an African-American woman to serve as governor. Of the 1,781 women in state legislatures, 240 are African American. Currently, there is only one African-American woman mayor of a major city, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, of Baltimore. The first African-American woman to be mayor of a major city is Sharon Pratt Kelly, who served in Washington, D.C. from 1991 to 1995.

The highest-ranking African American women include Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN, Valerie Jarrett, special assistant to the president, and Tonya Robinson, special assistant to the president for justice and regulator policy.

Muriel Brower, current Washington, D.C. councilmember, is running for mayor for the city in 2014. Her campaign theme song is Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire”. No other woman has announced a mayoral campaign in a major city.

Also, all African-American Women who are currently in the House of Representatives will be up for re-election. These women include: Karen Bass (California-D), Joyce Beatty (Ohio-D), Corrine Brown (Florida-D), Donna M. Cristensen (Virgin Islands-D), Yvette Clark (New York-D), Donna Edwards (Maryland-D), Marcia Fudge (Ohio-D), Eddie Bernice-Johnson (Texas-D), Robin L. Kelly (Illinois-D), Barbara Lee (California-D), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas-D), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin-D) Eleanor Holmes Norton (Washington, D.C.-D), Terri Sewell (Alabama-D), Maxine Waters (California-D) and Frederica Wilson (Florida-D). No African-American Woman who has not run before has entered the 2014 race as of now, though the 2014 election cycle is still a ways off.

Although African-American women in politics face racism, a new study by American University points to another cause of women in general not wanting to run for elections. The study, “Girl Just Wanna Not Run: The Gender Gap in Young Americans’ Political Ambition,” discovered that women are less likely to men to express interest in political careers, to express interest in a candidacy at some point in the future, or to consider elective office a desirable profession.

The study, which surveyed 2,100 18-25 year olds, discovered five main reasons that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition, which summarize that young women are less likely to learn about politics, be encouraged to run for politics, to think they are qualified to run, to be less exposed to politics at an early age, and less likely to play a competitive sport where winning is the goal.

These reasons may be true, but prejudice may be far greater factors for black young women.

Furthermore, though Congress is the most diversified it has ever been, until every political arena, national, statewide and local, reflects the true nature of the population, the plight of the Africa-American woman in politics will not be over.


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Tatiana M. Brown is a native of Washington, D.C. who is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Follow her @TatianaMBrown or check out her website, or contact her at

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