Black Politics and Black Political Behavior

By Hanes Walton Jr. | Go to book overview

15
Black Women in Politics: A Research Note

Shiela F. Harmon-Martin

Frederick Douglass once said, "the Negro be not judged by the heights to which he has risen, but by the depths from which he has climbed."1 Judged on that basis, the black woman in politics embodies the struggles of her race for equality in the American political system. The black woman in the American political arena has dared to be different, despite a history of legal, social, and economic obstacles to her inclusion in the American polity. The twin legacies of racism and sexism in the United States have had a double impact on black women and have shaped the focus and extent of their involvement in the political processes of our country.2 From slavery until the present, black women have had to overcome enormous barriers in order to achieve full participation in the governance of our society. Even as legal barriers fell, history books, the media, and traditional wisdom conspired to persuade too many of them to ignore public positions or to accept roles in the political arena subordinate to black men. Such portrayals not only distorted reality, but also ignored, no doubt intentionally, a rich legacy of leadership that has been inherited by black women.3 Despite racism and sexism, however, an impressive number of black women have found ways to influence the political process. Yet studies of selected black female officials have been rather limited because of the recency of their entry into the political arena and the small percentage of elective offices they occupy.

This chapter is an exploratory analysis of potential research issues concerning black women in politics. Because of the dearth of literature on and by black women in politics, much remains to be explored. This analysis will show that although there has been progress in the election of black women to public office, there is a need to identify a myriad of research issues that have not yet been addressed. These issues include (1) the factors that facilitate and obstruct black women's entry into the political arena, (2) the voting behavior of black women, (3) the involvement of black women within the political party structure, and (4) the participation of black women in political campaigns. Addressing these

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