Black and brown women have found considerable inspiration in the age of President Donald Trump; they’ve been inspired to run for office. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 266 women of color are major-party candidates for the U.S. Congress in 2020. This record is a repeat of the record achieved during the 2018 midterms, when the U.S. House and Senate witnessed the biggest run of female candidates since the beginning of U.S. history. This year, there are 248 women of color candidates running for seats in the U.S. House in 2020, in addition to the record number of Asian or Pacific Islander women running as major-party candidates for the U.S. House. These numbers don’t appear to be going anywhere. African-American women are apparently stoked.
Dr. Adia Winfrey is an Alabama psychologist who is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Rogers for Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District. Winfrey told Lighthouse that her campaign was not just about countering Trump’s regressive policies. It’s also about helping the nation reckon with a lopsided economy wherein African-Americans hold a fraction of wealth, compared to everybody else.
The Brookings Institution revealed that the net worth of a typical white family is $171,000. That’s nearly 10 times greater than that of a typical African-American family, which was $17,150 in 2016. Brookings also determined that this substantial wealth gap resulted from centuries of chattel slavery, Jim Crow Era policies, racist exemptions of Black people from the GI bill and the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act, and rampant redlining, among other race-based abuses.
Winfrey said reversing whole generations of damage like this requires the input of African-Americans serving in political roles. It is not the kind of thing that white politicians can easily fix by themselves.
“This nation, and really this world, is still impacted by what happened over the centuries regarding race relations,” Winfrey said. “Politics is no different. People bring their stereotypes and their judgement with them. As a Black woman, there are certain things that I still have to prove, and there’s support that I may not receive that we can look at as being largely based on my race and my gender. Even the most progressive person, if they are white, they will not have to go through those things. They may go through something similar, but it won’t be based on the color of their skin.”
Winfrey’s campaign against Rogers will be decided in the general election on November 3, 2020.
Mississippi state representative Alyce Clarke has been representing her city of Jackson since 1985. Clarke agrees that there is no way a politician can effectively represent an African-American constituency without being Black.
“If you have not lived life as an African-American, you have no idea what it’s like to suffer the things we’ve had to do without, like when we weren’t allowed to vote. In the past, whenever we did manage to vote we’d get in trouble or lose our job. This background makes us sensitive to voting rights issues, for example,” Clarke said.
Running for office, she said, means using your voice to help your own community in a time of desperate need. This might explain the record number of Black women running for office as the nation comes to grips with a coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black Americans. The revved-up push to campaign may also stem from a recent nationwide crusade to protect young Black men and women from police brutality. It’s easy to run for office when your children and your neighbors’ children are disproportionally impacted by police brutality, despite comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population. By one account, Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police during their lifetime. Other studies show that Black people fatally shot by police seemed to be twice as likely as white people to be unarmed. Even progressive California was revealed in studies to have a police force that intercepted and used force against Black people disproportionately, compared with other races.
“We work with the needs of our constituency,” Clarke said. “I try to get things passed that directly help my voters, and if I and other Black politicians don’t do it, nobody else will, and quite often my constituents would get left out.”
In addition, Winfrey pointed out that a nation as diverse as the U.S.—which is growing more diverse by the generation—deserves political representation that mirrors its people.
“Historically, politics in this country was reserved for wealthy, landowning white men. That is not the full representation of our country,” Winfrey said. Anything less, she warned, is not proper representation and probably not even democracy.