If you caught Oprah’s amazing speech at the Golden Globes, you might be one of those jumping on the Oprah For President bandwagon. Regardless of how you feel about that, one thing is clear: when black women run for office, they win!
Across the country, turnout among black women is higher than for any other demographic group. In 2016, turnout for black women in NC was 70% – nearly matching the registration rate for white women of 72%.
The intersection of prejudices against women and people of color can sometimes work to the advantage of black women running for office. The Higher Heights Leadership Fund points out the black women candidates are able to draw support from multiple communities, championing issues of concern to both women and black people.
One result is that black women have outpaced both black men and white women in increasing representation in Congress over the past 20 years.
Almost two-thirds of black women who ran for the House of Representatives between 2000-14 won, compared with less than half of white women.
Just weeks ago, history was made again when Vi Lyles was sworn in as the first African American female mayor of Charlotte.
And she is not alone. As of Election 2017, black women are now mayors of four of the 100 most populous US cities – in Baltimore, Toledo, Baton Rouge and Washington, DC.
Here in North Carolina, almost a third of the women serving in our state legislature are African Americans. African American women account for 13 of our 170 legislators. We have a higher percentage of African American women in our state legislature than all but 6 other states.
Is it any wonder that with power like this, voter suppression efforts are aimed squarely at Black women? Although the North Carolina voter ID law has been struck down by the courts as targeting “African Americans with almost surgical precision”, the impact of voter ID laws on women is sometimes overlooked. Factoring in name changes with marriage and divorce, a study by the Brennan Center found that as many as 32 million voting-age women may not have documentation that reflects their current name!
Against this backdrop, a summit for Black women is being held in Atlanta on Feb. 22-25. Power Rising: Building an Agenda for Black Women aims to build “an actionable agenda that leverages our individual and collective power and influence for the advancement of ourselves, our families, our communities and our future.” For more information or to make a contribution, go to www.powerrising.org.
Janet Colm was the founding CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) and the PPCNC Action Fund, which engaged in political work. She currently serves on the board and as treasurer of Democracy North Carolina. She has a B.A. in anthropology from Duke University and an M.S. in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.