As I watched Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, I reflected on our Black women pioneers. I think about the physical, mental, and spiritual toll being the first takes on those who seek opportunities to break barriers, and how, even against all odds, Black women continue to push for our rightful place in American history.
Judge Jackson is notably one of the most qualified candidates ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court, but her treatment throughout the hearings by Republican senators was egregious. Instead of giving her the respect she deserves, they used blatant racism and conspiracy theories in an attempt to undermine her qualifications. Whether it was the racist dog whistles, “mansplaining,” or bad-faith questions, the treatment was an insult to her integrity and dignity as a judge. She deserved better.
The confirmation hearings also highlighted a room that was overwhelmingly white and male. Black women make up 7.8% of the U.S. population — and are historically the most reliable Democratic voters–but account for less than 5% of elected roles in statewide executive offices, Congress, and state legislatures.
For too long, we have been at the very center of social change, yet disqualified from positions of power in our government. It’s taken 233 years for us to experience the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, we currently have no Black women senators, and America has still never seen a Black woman elected as governor.
It’s time to change that. Representation matters, and if Black women truly are the backbone of the Democratic party and the moral compass for our nation, then we must be in every room where decisions are made. It’s essential to ensure that our community gets a voice in the important issues shaping our futures and the future of this country.
We know the deficiency of Black women in government is not because there aren’t qualified candidates. I don’t need to remind anyone of the political powerhouse that is Stacey Abrams, who saw the gaps in voter participation in Georgia and then strategically planned for and set out to build bridges over the course of a decade.
It’s because the road to being first is perilous — we saw that in Judge Jackson’s hearings. Judge Jackson’s offensive treatment by Republican senators on a publicly streamed hearing resonates with Black women running for office who face similar obstacles of racism and sexism every day on the campaign trail.
These women do not fit the mold of the candidates we’ve historically elected in this country, so too often, Black women encounter the incorrect assumption that our failed run for office is because we aren’t good enough. The reality is, Black women candidates are running in a system that was created for white men by white men that was never meant for us to ascend to positions of power.
Another obstacle that holds qualified and capable Black women from pursuing governorships and senatorial positions is money. It is the reason EMILY’s List was founded and is our very name. EMILY stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” because it makes the dough rise. Money makes the difference between whether races are seen as competitive or not. And for Black women and other candidates of color, the early money needed to push their races forward isn’t there.
And yet, despite all of the disproportionate barriers we face, Black women continue to make history.
Candidates like Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Deidre DeJear in Iowa have built exciting campaigns to become the first Black women governors and are putting themselves out there. Similarly, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Rep. Val Demings in Florida are running for U.S. Senate to ensure Black women have representation, including in historic hearings like Judge Jackson’s.
These four proven leaders are running not because it’s time for the spots to be filled, but because they know that the government can and should do better to listen and act on behalf of Black women.
Being the first isn’t easy. And although it comes with a tremendous amount of pride, much of the battle is getting there. After we celebrate Judge Jackson’s confirmation as the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, we have the opportunity to support even more Black women on their journey to make history.
In the months leading up to Election Day, let’s make sure we’re defending and financially supporting the candidates who can become our country’s Black women senators and first Black women governors. EMILY’s List will be doing just that.
Laphonza Butler is the president of EMILY’s List. The mission of EMILY’s List is to elect Democratic pro-choice women up and down the ballot across the country.
Get Word In Black directly in your inbox. Subscribe today.