The possible elevation of Loretta Lynch to the top law enforcement official in the land masks the fact that Black women are severely underrepresented in elected office at every level across the country.
Though Black women are 7.4 percent of the U.S. population and 7.8 percent of the electorate, they represent just 2.6 percent of Congress and 3.3 percent of state legislatures in the U.S.
As for holding statewide office, that’s when the numbers get especially grim—there are only 2. In all 50 states, just two Black women have been elected to positions representing all the state’s voters—Denise Nappier, state treasurer in Connecticut, and Kamala Harris, attorney general of California.
A recent report by Higher Heights and the Rutgers Center for Women and Politics found that women face considerably more obstacles in running for office than white women and Black men.
Researchers have found that, compared to white women, Black women “are less likely to be encouraged to run and more likely to be discouraged from running. More specifically, women of color are less likely to be recruited to run, and that recruitment matters more for women than for men,” the report said.
Once they are candidates, “women are more likely than their male counterparts to face primary competition and report fundraising as a hurdle on their paths to elected office,” the report said.
In the 2012 election cycle, Black male members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised an average of $1,015,821, while Black female members of the CBC raised $781,763.
“Previous research has also pointed to racial differences in fundraising, noting that Black candidates often raise less money, rely more often on small donations, and are more likely to need to seek campaign donations from outside of their districts, which are less affluent—on average—than those of white candidates,” according to the report.
All of these obstacles come together to produce a depressing set of statistics. For instance, the 214 Black women in state legislatures across the country represented just 3.3 percent of the total of state legislators. In addition, there are only 26 Black women mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (1.9 percent). Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., only one has a Black woman mayor (Stephanie Rawlings Blake of Baltimore, the 26th largest city in the U.S.
If Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to replace Attorney General Eric Holder, is able to get past a less-than-enthusiastic Congress and be confirmed, it would represent a remarkably visible post for Black women in the U.S. But Lynch isn’t a politician and has never had to ask the public for votes.
California AG Harris has announced that she’s running for Senate next year. If she wins, it would be a massive increase in the Black female representation in that body—from zero to one.