Perspectives

Why are Black Women NOT Elected to Statewide Offices Throughout the Nation?

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There are only two black women in the nation who hold statewide elective executive offices, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Spectrum wants to know why.

Although there are numerous women of color elected to state and federal legislative offices, the numbers don’t translate to statewide executive offices, according to Dr. Kira Sanbonmatsu, senior scholar at the Center for American for American Women in Politics. (See their fact sheet on Women of Color in Office HERE.)

She points to several reasons for this paucity of statewide public officeholders of color. First, she says legislative districts are usually more minority based than statewide populations – therefore, making it easier to win in a select district.
Secondly, she notes that black women may have fewer campaign resources available than white women and men, thereby limiting spending amounts in campaigns.

Also, the majority of black women candidates are Democrats, according to Sanbonmatsu, and Republicans recently have been making greater strides in controlling statehouses.

Finally, she said there are often racial and gender stereotypes working against black female candidates among the electorate.
Spectrum also talked with two African-American women politicians in the swing-state of Ohio to get their perspectives: former State Senator Nina Turner who ran unsuccessfully for Sec. of State in 2014 and Judge Gayle Williams-Byers, an elected judge in Ohio from a diverse district.
Both found it unacceptable that in 2016 there have been no black women governors and such a small number of statewide officeholders across the nation. This is especially true, they say, since African-American women and other women of color constitute the largest voting constituency in the country.

“We get everyone else elected but ourselves,” said Sen. Tuner.
Both Judge Williams-Byers and Sen. Turner confirmed that it has been difficult for black women candidates to raise the kind of money that is needed to be successful in winning a statewide office. They don’t get the same amount of money as white candidates.

They also agreed that they face a “double whammy” of being black and being women when running statewide. However, they spoke of more difficulty confronting racial issues than gender bias.

Often, negative stereotypes are used against African American women as being ineffective and just plain angry. Passion for equality and fairness is often mischaracterized as being just an “angry black woman,” says Sen. Turner.

When asked what it will take to change the current status of so few black women in statewide offices, both agreed: 1) Consciousness of the problem of under-representation, 2) commitments from individuals and party leaders to getting black women elected, and 3) consequences for failing to grabble with this overarching problem.