With the 2022 midterm elections just one year away, political experts are taking stock of Black women’s electoral power nationwide. To this end, Higher Heights Leadership Fund and the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University released a new report on Friday: Reaching Higher: Black Women in American Politics 2021.
“In 2020, we saw another year of historic developments, coming after a record number of Black women running for office in 2018. We already knew that Black women would power the road to the White House and the road to 2020— but this data shows that Black women candidates are stepping off the sidelines as viable candidates with voters’ support. Black women are converting electoral power into political power,” said Glynda Carr, President/CEO of Higher Heights, which works to elect Black women candidates nationwide.
Higher Heights and CAWP issued their first report on the status of Black women in American politics in June 2014. Since that time, Kamala Harris, a Black and Southeast Asian American woman now serves as vice president. Sixteen new Black women were elected to Congress, and the numbers of Black women state legislators has risen by nearly 50 percent. Black women have also been elected big-city mayors – with 12 Black women taking office as mayors in the top 100 most populous cities since mid-2014.
Still, as the nation looks ahead to the midterm elections, the report finds there may be greater opportunities for Black women’s gains in statewide offices where they remain especially underrepresented.
The report found a record number of Black women ran for and won congressional offices in 2020, but Black women’s congressional representation is not at a record high. Most acutely, no Black women currently serve in the U.S. Senate. And despite being 7.8 percent of the U.S. population, Black women are less than 5 percent of officeholders elected to statewide executive offices, Congress, and state legislatures. They are eight of the mayors in the nation’s 100 most populous cities.
Meanwhile, Black women remain severely underrepresented as officeholders at the statewide executive level, holding almost 2 percent of these positions. To date, 17 Black women have held statewide elected executive offices, and no Black woman has ever been elected governor despite Stacey Abrams securing the first-ever major party nomination of a Black woman for governor in 2018.
“Our organizations are committed to raising awareness about both the gains and gaps in Black women’s political power,” said report author Kelly Dittmar, Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Director of Research at CAWP. “To accelerate the progress we’ve seen in recent years and to take advantage of opportunities forthcoming in 2022, the work must continue to create more equitable conditions under which Black women candidates both emerge and compete.”
“When Black women run for office, they not only challenge biased views of who can or should lead, but also disrupt perceptions of electability,” said Carr. “Black women are a powerful force in the American political system, and their political power at the polls and on the ballot continues to grow and is increasingly recognized as the force it is.”
The report unveiling was part of a full weekend that Higher Heights hosted to empower Black women in politics. Friday’s guests included: Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL); A’shanti Gholar, President of Emerge; Minyon Moore, Principal at Dewey Square Group; Nikole Killion, Congressional Correspondent, CBS News; and Sonya Ross, Editor in Chief, Black Women Unmuted.
There was also a leadership boot camp on Saturday. Guests included Jacqueline Ayers, Planned Parenthood Foundation of America’s Senior Vice President of Policy, Organizing, and Campaigns, Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler, and Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project.
A Sunday Brunch with a meal prepared by celebrity chef and Harlem restaurateur, Melba Wilson, featured honorees who included: New York Attorney General, Letitia James, who is our 2021 Shirley Chisholm Award Recipient, as well as Joy-Ann Reid, Tiffany Dena Loftin, Alexis McGill Johnson and Esi Eggleston Bracey. Last but not least, there were performances by gospel singer Kathy Taylor and a set by legendary DJ Spinderella.