Black women face significant barriers to achieving leadership in the political arena, but wield a robust political voice, according to a recent report released by Higher Heights for America and the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
According to the findings of “The Status of Black Women in American Politics,” the level of representation of Black women in politics is far disproportionate to their representation within the population.
Black women comprise 7.4 percent of the U.S. population and 7.8 percent of the electorate. However, there are only 14 Black women in Congress (2.6 percent), two Black women in statewide elected executive office, 241 Black women in state legislatures (3.3 percent), and 26 Black women mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (1.9 percent). Among the 100 largest cities in the United States, only one is led by a Black woman mayor: Baltimore, where Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has served as mayor since 2010.
The imbalance is evident even within the African-American population.
Black women comprise 52.2 percent of the Black population and 58.6 percent of the Black electorate. However, they account for a mere 34.1 percent of Black lawmakers on Capitol Hill, 25 percent of statewide elected executive officials and 37.7 percent of Black state legislators.
However, those figures belie the significant power Black women wield at the polls.
“Black women are among the country’s most politically active citizens. In 2012, Black women had the highest rate of voter turnout of any group, and they represented almost 60 percent of Black voters who went to the polls,” Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, said in a statement. “These statistics are clear evidence of Black women’s ability to be defining factors in election outcomes. This report brings to the forefront that despite this growing power, Black women’s electoral heft is not translating into political representation.”
Though Black women are politically engaged, they face distinct hurdles to running for and winning office, the report found.
“CAWP’s research has found that Black women are less likely to be encouraged to run for office, are more likely to be discouraged from running, and report more difficulties in fundraising than men and White women,” said Kelly Dittmar, assistant research professor at CAWP and author of the report. “Black women have taken advantage of their confidence and political experiences in community work and activism to achieve political success despite these barriers, but only recently have they tapped their many opportunities for greater representation.”