African American Women In Charge? Yes, Please
What have African American women done for us lately? Quite a lot in fact. They got Doug Jones elected to the US Senate instead of the creepy mall stalker who shall not be named. They are also already representing America with plain-speaking persistence and integrity. California has a few stellar examples. For instance, LA county’s Congress-member Maxine -“I am reclaiming my time”- Waters, and Oakland’s Congress-member Barbara Lee, who was the sole vote against invading Iraq back in 2001. Then there’s Aja Brown who became the youngest mayor of Compton in 2013, got the city back on track, and is now running to join Waters and Lee in the US House of Representatives. And Senator Kamala Harris, who many will argue has super powers.
These women of color have shown that diversity serves politics well at the national and local levels.
With 37 million residents, California is a big state with plenty of room for improvement in its representation. The state legislature is predominantly white and male. California’s congressional delegation of 53 representatives only has one other African American woman: Karen Bass representing the 37th district.
Even the famously progressive Bay Area is lacking diversity in representation. The San Jose Mercury News ran an article in February stating that of the 101 cities in the Bay Area, only one has an African American mayor.
This issue has come to forefront with London Breed, a San Francisco native who is now candidate for mayor. Breed grew up in public housing in a family of five living on $900 per month, then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco.
In 2004, at the age of 28, she became the director of the non-profit African American Arts & Culture complex. In 2010, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom named her to the Fire Commission. From there she went on to become the first challenger in San Francisco history to defeat an incumbent Supervisor. She makes it a point to remind San Franciscans that she grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, and knows how to problem solve with creativity and persistence. She learned to spend carefully too. Her campaign website states that she drives a sixteen year old car and shops with coupons.
As President of the city’s Board of Supervisors, Breed was appointed as acting mayor when Ed Lee suddenly passed away late last fall. After Breed announced her candidacy for Mayor, the Board of Supervisors elected to name a new interim Mayor, a white man incidentally, which has caused some controversy and accusations of racism. It is openly acknowledged that the Board did this to limit any benefit to Breed’s campaign, even though this step was not taken when Dianne Feinstein was named Mayor after the death of George Moscone and she announced her candidacy to become Mayor.
Polls show Breed is neck and neck in the race for Mayor with former state Senator Mark Leno. At the most recent debate the other mayoral candidates focused their lines of attack on Breed, so she appears to be the one to beat. The attacks will continue, however. Given San Francisco’s track record for electing people of color to the highest office, the contest is far from determined.
The City by the Bay is famous for its progressive politics, but in its history, it has elected only one African American man, Willie Brown, and one woman, Dianne Feinstein, to the office of Mayor. California often leads the way. Many trends gain a foothold here before being accepted throughout the nation. It is impossible to know the private motivations of individuals at play, but the lack of diversity in representation in what is arguably the country’s most progressive area should prompt us to ask ourselves some tough questions. What can African American women do for us? Looking at the examples of Waters, Lee, Brown, and Harris, the answer is quite a lot. Why wouldn’t we want more women like them in office?
Go to Black Women in Politics to learn about other women running for office in your state.
Jennifer Dodge is a white stay-at-home-mom who is tired of systemic racism.