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Record number of Black American women set to run for US Congress

Reuters Washington | Updated on July 27, 2020 Published on July 27, 2020

Joyce Elliott, an Arkansas state senator who is seeking a US congressional seat in November, was the second Black American student to attend her local public high school; the first was her older sister. If elected in November, she will be the first Black American lawmaker in Congress from Arkansas, ever.

Campaign against racism

On the campaign trail in June, Elliott attended a demonstration against racism in White County, which is more than 90 per cent white, and spoke to attendees in the shadow of a Confederate monument. The November election is a “chance to change our history”, she told Reuters afterward. “I really decided I needed to run because I could see a pathway to winning.”

As the US grapples with a deadly coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed Black Americans and recent upheaval over police brutality, a record number of Black American women are running for Congress. Elliott is one of at least 122 Black American or multi-racial Black American women who filed to run for congressional seats in this year’s election; this figure has increased steadily since 2012, when it was 48, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

As primary season draws to a close, nearly 60 Black American women are still in the running, according to Collective PAC.

“People are becoming more comfortable with seeing different kinds of people in Congress. You don’t know what it looks like to have powerful Black American women in Congress until you see powerful Black American women in Congress,” said Pam Keith, a Navy veteran and attorney who is running in the Democratic primary for a Florida congressional seat.

Underrepresented

Black American women are nearly 8 per cent of the US population, but 4.3 per cent of Congress, according to a report by the Center of Women and Politics and Higher Heights for America, a political action committee that seeks to elect more progressive Black American women to elected office. They are underrepresented in statewide executive’s jobs and among mayors as well, according to the report.

But Black American women voters showed the highest participation rate of any group in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Historically, Black American women have been more likely to win in majority-Black districts, but many are running this cycle in majority white or mixed districts, some of which had previously voted for Republicans.

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Published on July 27, 2020
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