5 Black Women Scholars Visit Georgetown to Discuss Black Women in Politics

by Xara Aziz
Photo By: Aashna Nadarajah

To commemorate Black History Month, the Women and Gender Studies, African American Studies, and Government departments at Georgetown University hosted Black woman scholars to engage in a panel called “Black Women’s Politics.”

The distinguished panel included Dr. Sharon Austin, professor of political science at the University of Florida; Dr. Ayana Best, assistant professor of political science at Howard University; Dr. Pearl Dowe, professor of political science and African American studies at Emory University; and Dr. Christine Slaughter, assistant professor of political science at Boston University. Dr. Nadia Brown, chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Georgetown, moderated the discussion. 

Brown initiated the conversation by encouraging the scholars to delve into the significance of researching Black women as a political force, posing the question, “What benefits do we derive from focusing on this particular group of political actors?”

In response, Austin recounted the beginnings of her academic journey as a scholar of Black women in politics during the 1990s, highlighting the resistance she encountered from fellow faculty members at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“I was told, ‘why are you trying to do that? That’s not important,’” Austin said. Opposition to her advancement stayed with Austin, yet as more Black women entered the political space, she felt that the need for her scholarship was becoming apparent.

She continued: “I thought about that especially when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were being inaugurated, and now we have a Black vice president, we almost had a Black governor [in Florida], we’ve had several Black women running and also winning state-wide elections,” she said. 

Although more Black women are running for office and winning, stringent voting ID laws continue to disproportionately affect the ability of Black voters, particularly Black women, to exercise their right to vote, thus posing a threat to their voting rights. Nonetheless, Black women have remained steadfast in their civic participation, with over two-thirds of them turning out to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, the House of Representatives currently boasts 28 Black women members, and across state legislatures nationwide, 383 Black women hold seats, marking significant historical achievements in representation.

Similar to Austin, Best debated the trials and opposition she encountered numerous challenges while endeavoring to underscore the importance of studying the influence of Black women in the political arena.

“The biggest question when I told people this was what I wanted to study was, ‘So who is your comparison group? You’re just talking about Black women — what about Black women to white women or Black women to Black men?’” 

She further challenged research methodologies that solely compare the role and influence of Black women in politics to other racial demographics.

“We [Black women] are very diverse in our thinking, in our way of being, in our way of coming to think about politics and the way we fit in,” she said.

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