By Kendra Bolton
“Can you hear them?” she asked.
“Sorta. It’s muffled,” her friend answered.
“Can you see them?”
“Hardly. If I look around that guy, kinda.”
This conversation could be friends chatting in the very last row of a concert venue. It’s not. Replace ‘them’ with ‘Black women in politics.’ Now, read that again.
Same answers apply.
A Black woman vice president candidate proves how far we’ve come and confirms that Black woman political power is ripe for the taking. But, a close look at the numbers shows evidence that we need to create these opportunities now. Black women are underrepresented. Period. Shellie Hayes-McMahon, a Black woman and resident of Cedar Park, Texas realized she was legislating everyday like so many women do with family, work, children and more. She had talent to share with her community so she ran for city council. Hayes-McMahon knew campaigning would require grit, of which she has plenty, she did not know it would require drawing the curtains to protect her life.
We learned Hayes-McMahon’s story in our virtual sit-down with her and Royce Brooks, respectively Operations Director and Executive Director of Annie’s List.
The Status of Black Women in the United States 2017, published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that political representation is highly significant in determining which issues, policies, and communities’ needs get prioritized. It further details several studies that find Black women legislate in different ways from other groups of women and Black men due to their particular locations at the intersections of race and gender. Hayes-McMahon has this lived experience and built the courage to share it. She says, “We have so much at stake we can’t afford to sit out. Our lived experiences and voices are important.”
There is so much at stake and so much to overcome to secure political office. Brooks concisely describes the system as designed to be responsive to money.” Research from the Center for Responsive Politics cites that Black women are the least resourced demographic group and we see this play out at all levels. It states, “In 2014, Black women composed 6.4 percent of the United States population, but as of August 2016 held only 3.4 percent of seats in the United States Congress and no seats in the U.S. Senate.” (IWPR.ORG The Status of Black Women in the United States. 2017). There are no Black women in the Texas State Senate, Black women make up only 6 percent of the Texas House of Representatives and there are no Black women mayors of Texas’ large cities.
Walking us through her campaign journey, Hayes-McMahon offered some reflections. “You have to ask, how much are you willing to minimize yourself?”… “People don’t take us seriously, we are not sought out in suburban communities.” When running for office Hayes-McMahon received death threats because she is Black. To keep herself and her family safe they drew their window curtains and were forced to stay in their house for 48 hours. In Cedar Park. In 2018. Hayes-McMahon continued her campaign but lost by a small margin.
“Brooks says, Black women speaking from a position of power or authority are automatically at odds with the structure on which society is built.” There are loud, redundant voices that get to use the exclusive systems and platforms of our political process and this must change. We must make, protect and hold space for Black women.
Our communities are weeping. Our hearts are heavy. Show up. Bring your megaphone. Hold it for the voices of Black women. Hurry.
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Ura, Alexa & Cameron, Darla. “In increasingly diverse Texas, the Legislature remains mostly white and male”. Texas Tribune. January 10, 2019.
IWPR.ORG. The Status of Black Women in the United States. 2017.