NATIONWIDE — A record number of Black women are set to run for office in 2022. Research shows the group poised to make history by potentially occupying the seat of governor, a feat that has never been accomplished before. But, even with the leaps Black women have made by stepping foot in the ring, a recent report examines the progress and inequities they face in politics.

What You Need To Know

  • A report from the Higher Heights Leadership Fund and the Center for American Women and Politics shows that no Black women currently serve in the U.S. Senate, and only two Black women have ever served in the Senate

  • Despite making up 7.8% of the population, Black women represent less than 5% of officeholders elected to statewide executive offices, Congress and state legislatures

  • No Black woman has ever been elected governor 

“Black women have been the architects of our democracy pre-dating Sojourner Truth, but what we’ve found is that with 23 million Black women in this country we are underrepresented and underserved,” said Glynda Carr, the president and co-founder of the Higher Heights Leadership Fund. “And the research points to there are clearly obstacles that women face when considering running for office and those are compounded if you are a woman of color and a Black woman.”

Since 2014, the Higher Heights Leadership Fund, which promotes and supports Black women in political power, has published "Reaching Higher: Black Women in American Politics," in conjunction with the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. The 2021 report highlighted the challenges of winning certain elected offices for the group, thus the lack of representation despite being touted as the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency, with one of the country’s highest voting rates.

“We are still seeing that Black women are being discouraged to run for office or what I call the new barrier is this discussion around electability,” said Carr. “You’ve never heard media pundits, donors or supporters say a white man is not electable. It is a word that is reserved for women of color and Black women. And we’ve proven that people who have said women who aren’t electable, in fact, have run competitive campaigns and in some instances have won.”

Carr notes issues such as “navigating the political process, often times being told it’s not your turn, access to early funding/money and access to early support — party support or institution support” have plagued Black women for decades and continue to do so. 

Still, she admits with the help of Black women-led organizations, those obstacles have lessened over the past 10 years. Research shows that, despite being 7.8% of the population, less than 5% of Black women occupy statewide executive offices, seats in Congress or the state legislatures. Additionally, on the statewide level, only 1.9% of those officeholders are Black women.

“The report shows that in 2014, we had 16 Black women serving in Congress,” said Carr. “We now have 27. The statewide executive office still provides some of the biggest obstacles that exist for Black women. In 2014, there were only two Black women serving in statewide executive offices, the treasurer of Connecticut and then attorney general of California Kamala Harris. We now have six and we’ve still never elected a Black woman governor.”

Outside of these “incremental gains” Carr says the biggest gain has been in the state legislature, with at least 350 Black women serving. To date, no Black women currently serve in the U.S. Senate.

“The Senate is similar to governors,” she said. “What’s connecting the U.S. Senate number to the gubernatorial numbers is that they run statewide. That is there is still lots of work to be done around supporting and engaging and recruiting Black women to run statewide. But, I certainly think 2022 we certainly should be seeing if not one Black woman, but multiple Black women in the U.S. Senate…”

At least 13 Black women have already announced major-party Senate bids, which could mean a new record for Black women candidates for the U.S. Senate during the 2022 election cycle. Kathy Barnette, of Pennsylvania, hopes to make a splash as the first Black woman Republican elected to the U.S. Senate. Describing herself as the American Dream, she discusses growing up “disadvantaged” on a pig farm and being the “by-product of a rape.”

“Though the details of my life’s story may vary somewhat from your story, my challenges closely resemble many who live in Pennsylvania,” Barnette, a conservative, said. “We have faced formidable odds and we have challenges yet to overcome, but with determination and a clear focus, we have opportunities to overcome them.”

With the recent announcement of Stacey Abrams' candidacy for governor in Georgia, seven Black women are vying for the office of governor across the United States, making it the most women to run for the position in history.

Community activist Deirdre Gilbert, of Texas, Oklahoma’s former state Sen. Connie Johnson, South Carolina’s state Sen. Mia McLeod, Iowa business owner Deidre DeJear, New York Attorney General Tish James and Harvard University professor Danielle Allen, of Massachusetts, all intend to run for governor.

“I certainly believe the Stacey Abrams's are products of Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm’s not only legacy, but also blueprint,” said Carr. “But, Stacey Abrams has created not only the blueprint for Black women, she’s also made the blueprint and playbook for Democrats. The women who are running for governor, frankly for Congress and local elections are using Stacy Abrams’ blueprint and that blueprint is to run authentically.”

While Black women continue to work towards equality and progress in the political arena, advocates urge that it’s important that citizens do their part in helping change the course of history.

“Once we have defined Black women's underrepresentation as a problem, it's up to all of us to try to solve it,” report author Kelly Dittmar, Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Director of Research at CAWP in an interview with Forbes. “That means supporting Black women at all stages of the campaign process, from candidate recruitment and emergence to the ballot box on Election Day. Citizens can support Black women on the campaign trail with their time and their money and they can support Black women at the ballot box with their vote.”

Dittmar went on to say that fixing systemic problems will aid in changing Black women’s representation at the state and federal level.

“And due to biases—often among long-time party influencers—about Black women's electability, that support needs to come early and often to debunk myths of unelectability,” she said. “Especially for those who spent much of the past 18 months on social media or elsewhere calling on others to ‘listen to Black women’ or ‘support Black women,’ it's time to translate those hashtags into action that can actually enhance the support infrastructure for Black women to run and win elective office.”

Click here to read the full report.