September 25, 2023
#BlackWomenLead campaign: How the elephants, racism and sexism, are keeping Black women from decision making tables in politics

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, Higher Heights Leadership Fund in partnership with the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University – New Brunswick held a national press briefing at the National Press Club amid the release of Black Women in Politics 2019

Co-Founder and CEO Glynda Carr of Higher Heights accompanied by Karen Finney (CNN Political Commentator), Judith Browne Dianis (Executive Director, National Office of Advancement Project), Leah Daugherty (Political Strategist) / Photo credit: Cirilo R Manego III

On the thirteenth floor in the Bloomberg room, filled with some of the most influential Black women in politics to date, Glynda Carr, Co-Founder and CEO of Higher Heights for America, illustrated her political prowess that has been catching the eyes of those in politics as a force to be reckoned with. Alongside her on the panel were decorated sisters in their own right, such as Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Kelly Dittmar, Judith Browne Dianis, Melanie Newman, Leah Daugherty, Joycelyn Frye, and Karine Jean Pierre. Moderating the panel was Karen Finney, Political Strategist and CNN political commentator. (Whew! #BlackGirlMagic)

Karine Jean Pierre, Senior Advisor and National Spokeswoman, MoveOn / Photo credit: Cirilo R. Manego III

According to the report, 2019 was a record setting year for Black women serving in Congress and in state legislatures, which was the causal effect of the record number of women winning  nominations in 2018. While getting elected is a feat in itself, Black women getting re-elected and holding on to seats is equally as important in building political power across the country. Accordingly, “When you support Black women candidates, you change decision-making tables,” Glynda Carr stated. Indeed! Despite those record breaking numbers and Black women making up 7.6% of the population, Black women represent less than 5% of officeholders elected to statewide executive offices, Congress and state legislatures. To date, no Black woman has ever held the office of governor.   

Glynda Carr / Photo credit: Cirilo R. Manego III

Kamala Harris wasn’t the topic of the discussion; however, the panel touched on some of the hindrances amid Black women candidates, like Harris, in getting elected to office. Some panelists mentioned funding. Others mentioned bias polling, which plays into whether or not some people will fund a candidate’s campaign effort. But, when the panel seemed hesitant to name the elephant in the room, Congresswoman Fudge, known for her #BlackWithNoChaser commentary, said #ExBlackly what needed to be said: “Until we address the racism and sexism in this country – nothing is going to change.” (Right on, Fudge!) Most reasonable people covering politics saw sexism ring true during Hillary’s run for president in 2016. This election cycle, however, with the most candidates of color in the mix in history, racism has reared its ugly head with only Andrew Yang, a male candidate of color, qualifying for the debate stage ahead of December’s debate. Undoubtedly, racism and its cousin, sexism, can be blamed for pushing candidates of color out the door.  

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11) / Photo credit: Cirilo R. Manego III

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Black women and candidates of color in politics. The report showed some notable progress for Black women candidates, after making history in 2018. “Black women were elected to Congress for the first time from 3 states in election 2018, and 4 of 5 freshman Black women members of the 116th Congress (2019-2021) were elected in majority-White districts.” 

“I stand before you today to repudiate the ridiculous notion that the American people will not vote for qualified candidates simply because he is not white or because she is not male.”  

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

Notwithstanding the progress made in the House, which has been stated still struggles with underrepresentation of Black women, pales in comparison to the grotesque underrepresentation that has historically locked out Black women and women of color from serving as U.S. Senators. In 2018, 8 Black women ran for Senate (6 Democrats and 2 Republicans) none of which were nominated. As it stands, there have been only two Black women elected to the U.S. Senate, ever: Kamala Harris and Carol Moseley Braun (1993-1999). Simply put, we have got to do better, but happy (not complacent) with the direction in which strides have been made.  

Kelly Dittmar, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University – Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, laying out the facts that Black women have to work 10 times harder than any other candidate in the field. To her left is Melanie Roussell Newman, Senior Vice-President of Communications and Culture, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund / Photo credit: Cirilo R. Manego III

Hope can only take us so far. Collectively, we must tap into the existing programs operating under the auspices of Higher Heights for America (Sister to Sister Salon Conversations; Sunday Brunch With Higher Heights; and Sistas to Watch) to effectuate more change. The future is in our hands. Let’s mold it into a world where we all thrive, which includes sistas in office. 

Follow along the conversation by using #BlackWomenLead and #BlackWitNoChaser.



Cirilo Manego III loves ramen and is quest to eat at every known ramen spot in Washington, D.C. While he’s not doing that, he’s likely somewhere flourishing. He’s a proud uncle of 13 nieces and nephews and dog owner. Native New Orleanian. Caters for fun @tumpetastings. When none of that is happening, he is political consultant to the stars. #StayBlack

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