McCormack Speaks

Women of Color are the Force for Change in Politics

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by Carol Hardy-Fanta
Senior Fellow

Book coverIn a new book, Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America, we argue that gains in political leadership and influence by people of color are transforming the American political landscape, but they have occurred within a contested political context, one where struggles for racial and gender equality continue. These thoughts are particularly relevant in the aftermath of the recent election—one marked by deep divisions drawn around race and gender.

For all the attention to race and gender in the Clinton-Trump race, and the cliffhanger between two (white) women in New Hampshire, the outcome of the US Senate contests demonstrate something equally if not more important: even if the president is another white male, the face of political leadership is changing – and women of color are the force for change.

Any gains by women have been driven by women of color: If Tammy Duckworth (thanks to Kirk insulting her Thai background) had not prevailed in Illinois; Kamala Harris (who ran against Loretta Sanchez and won the seat vacated by Barbara Boxer, D-CA, to become the first Black/Asian Indian US Senator); and Catherine Cortez Mastos (the first Latina US Senator) had not beaten Joe Heck in Nevada, and, the Senate would have been more Republican, more white and more male. (Barbara Mikulski, who retires, was replaced by a white man, and other white women lost their races.) Instead of just one women of color in the Senate (Mazie Hirono, D-HI), there are now four; three of the four have Asian American backgrounds.

Besides weighing in on the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice nominated by President Trump, they will bring new voices to policies such as immigration, women’s rights, minority civil rights and the death penalty, all of which and more are discussed at length in the book.

Contested Transformation argues that more attention also needs to be paid to Black, Latino and Asian American women and men serving as state legislators as well as mayors, city councilors, county officials and school board members, since 96% of all elected officials serve at the local level; oversee budgets of and spend a trillion dollars a year; and make policy decisions that affect our communities, and hire police chiefs and school superintendents.

Finally, as seen in the photo on the cover of the book, which shows Michelle Wu’s swearing in as the first Asian American and female president of the Boston City Council; with local elections coming up in the spring, it would be a good time to examine Boston politics in light of the information contained in this new book.

Carol Hardy-Fanta, McCormack Graduate School

Carol Hardy-Fanta

Carol Hardy-Fanta (PhD, Brandeis University), a senior fellow at UMass Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies and former director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, is the lead author on  the new book, Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America, issued recently by Cambridge University Press and coauthored with Pei-te Lien, Dianne Pinderhughes, and Christine Sierra.

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