A century after women were granted the right to vote, women of color are growing their political power in races across the country.
At least 266 women of color are running for seats in Congress this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, a new record that eclipses the 179 women of color who ran in 2018.
And one more — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Joe Biden’s vice presidential nominee — could make history as the first person of color, man or woman, to serve as a presiding officer, if the Democratic ticket captures the White House in November.
Four women of color serve in the Senate, and 44 are members of the House.
“You just have this burden of being everything to everyone, but here’s the thing about Black women: We’ve had to be that way,” said China Dickerson, the former campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), the youngest African American woman to serve in Congress.
Dickerson, now the national political director for Forward Majority, a Democratic group focused on flipping state legislatures, said women of color are often the only ones in the room representing a diverse perspective.
“Black and Brown women have had to be that way our entire lives, so we have more experience than white men at navigating intersectionality,” she said.
The historic list of women running for Congress include Cori Bush, a nurse and activist who defeated longtime Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D) in the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 1st District. In Texas’s 24th District, Candace Venezuela (D) is working to become the first Afro-Latina in Congress. And in Arizona, Indian American physician Hiral Tipirneni is running to represent the state’s 6th District.
Women are also working to make inroads in state and local offices as well. According to CAWP, there are 90 women serving in statewide elective executive offices, but only 17 percent of them are women of color. And of the 2,158 women in state legislatures across the country, just a quarter are women of color.
“We know that is where the biggest impact on people’s lives happen,” said A’shanti Gholar, the president of Emerge America, a Democratic group dedicated to helping women run for office up and down the ballot. “You see more Black women running at these levels because the fact is, Black women, they have been the community activists, they have been leading, they’re now putting their names on the ballot to make change in their communities.”
In Texas, Akilah Bacy, a Black woman, local attorney and community volunteer, was met with doubt and skepticism after she announced her candidacy because of her status as a first-time candidate in the state’s 138th House District.
“I was the only first-time candidate,” Bacy told The Hill. “They were like, prepare to run again, and I said OK, we’ll see, but I’m going to run this time first.”
Bacy ended up clearing the primary with 47 percent of the vote and the subsequent run-off with almost 80 percent of the vote.
The increased number of women of color running for office comes as the U.S. grapples with the issue of racial justice and equality amid the deaths of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
The issue has inspired a number of Black women to run for office, including Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in 2012.
“When we want to say that we need people who truly understand, that unfortunately means that we need people who have been through these dire situations,” Gholar said.
Data shows that the majority of women and women of color running for office tend to be Democrats. This year, there are almost twice as many women of color running as Democrats, 162, than as Republicans, 86.
“I think that the left has outpaced the right in terms of tapping into all corners of the country, all corners of their party, and looking outside the box to find good candidates,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for Winning for Women, a group dedicated to electing Republican women to office. “We’ve gotten better and smarter about doing that, and it’s showing.”
A number of Republican women of color running for Congress have already made headlines. Stephanie Bice, an Iranian American, won the GOP runoff in Oklahoma’s 5th District last month, pitting her against Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) in one of the most contested House races in November.
Republicans featured Kimberly Klacik, who is running for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’s (D-Md.) seat in Baltimore, at the party’s national convention in August. Klacik went viral with an ad pushing the message “All Black Lives Matter.”
In Florida, former broadcast journalist Maria Salazar, who is Cuban American, is set to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala (Fla.) in the state’s 27th District.
“I’m Cuban American, so to see someone like Maria Salazar run for office and people like her, it’s just encouraging,” said Perez-Cubas.
Republicans and Democrats both say that their candidates face more obstacles than white or male candidates, especially when it comes to money.
“Our campaigns are still not funded in the way that white men’s campaigns are funded,” Dickerson said. “We can’t self-fund our campaigns, and we don’t necessarily have the network.”
While women of color running for public office acknowledge the progress that has been made since mostly white women were granted the right to vote a century ago, and most Black women in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, they say they are acutely aware that more progress needs to be made.
“Frederick Douglass said what is the Fourth of July to the negro,” Bacy said. “Well, a lot of it to me is, what is the 19th Amendment to the Black woman?”
“We can’t forget that from which you came, and how much further we still have to go in this,” she said.