Race, Gender, and Political Office

Dayo Olopade’s article on cultivating the next generation of black women political leaders is excellent. But since I’m an egomaniac, I thought I would just respond to the part that briefly mentioned me:

Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress has pointed out that black women — comprising 30 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus — are overrepresented as compared to the rest of the Congress which is 17 percent female. But this doesn’t mean women of color are moving up as easily as men. According to statistics from the Gender and Multicultural Leadership Project, black men still outnumber black women at the federal, state and county level — including local school boards — at times at a ratio approaching four to one. Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, only one has an African-American woman mayor. This isn’t a battle of the black sexes, but the status quo seems to sell short black women whom countless studies show are achieving more than black men in college and in professional life.

That seems about right. Basically if you look at the woman:man ratio among black politicians it’s higher than among white politicians. But it’s still quite low.

One point I like to drive home about this is that when you limit your recruiting pool of candidates to white men, you’re looking at a pool that contains very few progressives. Now there are still a bunch of progressive white men out there, but if you assume that political talent and charisma are reasonably rare traits this means that when you’re looking for outlier political talent the right is going to have a huge advantage when you’re wishing in the white male pool. Expanding the pool poses some challenges — women are often not as well-supported by their family in running for office, black candidates have trouble in majority-white districts — but working on it steadily is vital to making sure that there’s adequate overall political talent on the progressive side.