At this year’s Golden Globes, talk show billionaire, actress, producer and legend Oprah Winfrey was bestowed the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award and gave a powerful speech about service to others, race, gender and sexual assault.
Many called her speech “presidential” and the speech led to calls for her to run in 2020. Then the backlash came.
There are plenty of reasons why our country shouldn’t be in the business of electing celebrities or business people to be president. However, if you’re going to shoot down Oprah as a candidate, you might want to have suggestions for other women of color who could be fit to lead this country, their states and local communities. And then actually support them.
After the 2016 elections and the special Senate election in Alabama, it finally became clear to everyone who is not black that African Americans, particularly black women voters, are the deciding factor in many critical races important to Democratic victories.
Many Democrats and progressive organizations were on social media the day after the election in Alabama celebrating black women’s ability to mobilize and come out on election day to protect progressive values.
No more Beyoncé GIFs about black women getting in “formation,” even though we do. It’s time for progressive organizations and the Democratic Party to recruit, train, fund and elevate black women leadership.
African-American women are just over 3 percentof the U.S. House of Representatives. There is only one black woman in the U.S. Senate. There are only 276 black women in 43 state legislatures across the country and six black women who are mayors of the 100 largest cities.
We’ve had one black woman lead the Democratic National Committee, twice (Donna Brazile.) And while we currently have a black woman, Karen Carter-Peterson, as a vice chair, you can count the number of black women Democratic state party chairs on one hand.
To bring more black women into political leadership takes everyone, not just black women, working on it. I know this from experience.
In 2013, I was elected the first black president of the Young Democrats of America, the nation’s largest partisan youth organization, the youth arm of the Democratic National Committee, in its 81-year history. I was also the organization’s fifth woman president. Four years later, I am still the only black person to be president.
It’s not because I was the first black person to have ever aspired to that post.
When it came time for my candidacy, I was accused by many within the organization who formerly lauded my organizing and fundraising work to all of a sudden being “difficult to work with.” I was running against a black man but I still encountered the racial and gender stereotypes uniquely experienced by women of color.
There were comments about my clothes, my hair, and the way I spoke. I wasn’t the favorite to win, even though I had served faithfully and the longest within the organization. It was hard, extremely painful at times and lonely. However, it is a story I hear often — across the political spectrum — from women of color who seek leadership roles that have never been held by us before.
I traveled to 15 states to meet delegates and spent countless hours on the phone campaigning. I persevered and made history because of the coalition that backed me. While black women were some of my most defiant supporters, it was white, Latino and Asian members who believed in me, too. They played an active role in my campaign, organizing votes, raising money and serving as surrogates on my behalf.
That’s what it’s going to take: Everyone rowing together. To bring more black women into political leadership takes more than just lip service, it takes mentorship and support. The movement should not continually leave this to black women alone to figure out, as we have for so long. I have heard, as have many black colleagues in politics, requests for us to find the people of color to apply for jobs, nonprofit boards, and to serve on panels. This burden shouldn’t be left to people of color alone.
It’s just good common political sense. Republicans have long since elevated their base, white evangelicals, to power. They are not only the base that keeps the GOP in line, they run campaigns, they run for office, and they were recruited and groomed by GOP leaders who saw their potential and knew it was wise to bring them up. And the GOP has been rewarded with complete loyalty from a generation of white evangelicals at the ballot box.
As of right now, we have more than 30 black women running for Congress across the country. There are two black women running for Governor: Connie Johnson in Oklahoma and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. And countless more are stepping up to run for state legislature, school boards, and city and county councils.
On the back end, political action committees like Higher Heights for America are dedicated to supporting black women political leadership.
Black women’s lives are at the intersection of so many communities and issues, having experienced life as black people and as women. There are also black women with disabilities and who identify as LGBTQ. There is barely an issue that the Democratic Party or progressive movement champions of which black women aren’t affected, often disproportionately, like affordable quality health care, education, good paying jobs just to name a few. With more black women in public office and political leadership, the interests of not only their communities but every community is elevated for the better.