No Black Women Have Been Elected to House Leadership in 44 years, Since Before I Was Born
44 years ago Shirley Chisholm was elected to House Leadership, and that was the last time a Black Woman has run her race for a leadership position. Think about how that sounds in the Year of Our Lord, 2021. Sure, we have had Black women appointed to important positions in House leadership, like Maxine Waters, who runs the House Financial Service Committee, and Barbara Lee who co-chairs the Steering Committee, but both leaders were appointed. How is it that in 44 year not one Black Woman was able to get a majority of the Democratic Caucus to vote for them?
When Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence lost her leadership race by a single vote, she looked up the last time a Black woman was elected to sit at her party’s leadership table in the House.
She was stunned to learn it was Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York — 44 years ago.
In the same year the U.S. elected its first Black woman to serve as vice president, the House Democratic Caucus once again elected a leadership team that didn’t include a single Black woman.
“When the vote is taken by our body, Black women don’t win,” Lawrence (D-Mich.) said in an interview. “I cannot comprehend how, for 40 years, a Black woman has never earned the collective majority vote of our caucus.”
This is completely unacceptable. Period. Democrats have some serious work to do when it comes to valuing the work and time of Black women. When it’s time to look for votes in order to salvage a House or Senate majority, White Dems come knocking at our doors, hats in hand, asking us to work long hours for no pay knocking doors, phone banking, fundraising, and delivering seats in states like Georgia. But, when it comes time to donate to Black Women candidates, or apparently, vote for them in caucus elections, they never come through for us. This is an abomination, and it must not remain like this any longer, we must demand better, we deserve better.
The precise reason that so few Black women have risen into leadership ranks is unclear, Lawrence and others said. But it’s likely multi-faceted: Black women in politics, for instance, have long had to work harder than their white or male counterparts to fundraise and get elected.
Black women in every industry face bias, lower pay, and discrimination, yet we expect better from the party that depends on our work in order to remain viable. If Black women were to abandon the Democratic Party, or Heavens forbid, if we decided to boycott working on campaigns until we were treated equitably, the party would likely collapse. Would the caucus then realize they had been mistaken when overlooking qualified Black Women for 40 years? I cannot even imagine the indignity I would feel if I had watched elections in the House for the past 44 years and saw not one Black woman obtain a leadership position by virtue of receiving the majority of votes.
This is not a crisis of Black Leadership; this is a failure of White Democrats. Being willing to ask for and accept help from Black women for years, yet not finding any Black Women qualified to lead is seriously problematic, and it’s also racist. So, stop patting yourselves on the backs and pointing at MAGA if you’re a house Dem who has not found it within themselves to vote for a Black woman seeking a leadership position. You’re not better than anyone just by virtue of you being a Democrat.
Several Black female lawmakers also said they face tougher scrutiny of their leadership capabilities, even compared to Black men, regardless of seniority. Lawrence’s race for caucus representative, for instance, was won by a Black Democrat in his second term, Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas).
“It was just one of those things, I said, you know, I need to say what is happening here. This is bigger than me,” said Lawrence, who was elected in 2014. “I can’t sit here and say every Black woman who runs is the best qualified or should be elected. But dang, 40 years?”
40 years is waaaay too goddamn fucking long for us to be waiting for the next Black Woman to receive a majority of votes from the Dem caucus, so we can stop fawning over our own diversity until we’ve rooted out the misogynoir in our ranks. And more White Dems need to donate to Black Women, it’s deplorable that we have to work so hard to get support from White members of our own party.
Those comments were particularly powerful, several Democrats on the call later said, because of the way Black women helped drive the Democratic party’s success at the ballot in November. Then weeks later, it was again Black voters who turned out in Georgia to help deliver the Senate majority during two run-off races.
If Democrats want Black Women to continue being the stalwart fighters who save entire fucking elections, they had better make it worth our time. We weren’t put on this earth to do all the work for free and get nothing for our trouble. We work hard so we can have some say in the direction of the Party and help steer America toward a more just and fair future. Don’t just call us to get out the vote for you when you’re desperate to save your seat, you need to also show up and make sure we’re represented at every level of Government. That includes House Leadership.
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