Dianne Pinderhughes on Race, Gender and Elected Office
March 28, 2018
As women, especially women of color, run for office in record numbers, the Gender Policy Report interviewed Dianne Pinderhughes, Political Science Professor and co-author of Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America. In the wake of President Trump’s election, the #MeToo movement and other developments resulting in a surge of women candidates, Dr. Pinderhughes discusses the institutional and historical factors that have contributed to representation for women of color from different communities.
“Well, we’re a long way from parity. Our results show, and this is only for the Congress and for state legislative office, that–it’s important to know who’s above parity. So white men, in both of these categories are like 2.5, 2.1, they are overrepresented in other words. That’s what we mean by parity. White women are not over parity. They are maybe 75 percent of where they should be. Or actually even less. Black men are closer, but they’re maybe 74, 75 percent at the Congressional and state legislative level. Whereas, the women–black women–are maybe at 30 or 40 percent of where they should be. Latinos, the males, are maybe 70 percent, but women are less than that–30-40 percent. Asian American are even lower. So we’ve got a long way to go. It’s great to see more numbers, but in terms of the proportional representation relative to their place in the population, we’re a long way away.
I think that you’ve got a couple of factors. I think that the campaign for political participation has gone on for much longer in the African American community. But, it’s more than that. It’s also the civil society structures that exist: the church, social organizations, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, all of which provide a foundation for participation in life, in public life. Some of them are private, the HBCUs, some of them are private, some of them are public. But they became, in the Civil Rights Movement, a foundation for political actions, where people left their classrooms and began to sit in on lunch counters and organization participation, voter registration, campaigns. The Latino community, there now are Hispanics services in institutions of higher education but they’re relatively new. The HBCUs are–many of them trace their origins back to the late 19th century and are also linked to churches. So you have kind of a double whammy of church and an educational institution and that people have a tremendous loyalty to. And so, what I’m saying about these institutions, is that they provide a civil society, a civics participation basis.
The other groups are new to the educational aspect, but it’s also–then I’ll change the focus to the ways in which society socialize the African American population–slavery, segregation, discrimination. Several hundred years of slavery, small portions of the population not being enslaved, but still being subject to being in jeopardy all the time. Post-slavery, post-Civil War, shortly after–by 1896–de jure segregation comes into recognition by the Supreme Court. And so you go from 1896 through basically 1954–1965–put it in that time frame. And you’ve got all of that time for framing African American communities as being–to be segregated, to be corralled. But it meant that people had to create new generations of institutions: the NAACP, the Urban League. These all come into existence in the early periods of that–the early years of segregation. And a lot of the social organizations get created in that period of time as well. So it creates a kind of political participation foundation. It creates a sense of self as being excluded, but people transform that into a basis for understanding what they had to do in order to be independent.
The Latino population, people were either in the Southwest already with some numbers of people coming in from time to time, but not being a formal segregation in the same way. Yes, it did have some impact but it didn’t have this kind of national institutionalized sense of self. And it’s more recently, I would think in the 1960s and 70s that you start to see the brown power emphasis among Latinos or Chicanos. The ways in which the names changed they self-defined. And then also you have multiple groups speaking the same language but being from different national origins–Puerto Ricans from the U.S. but an island, Mexican Americans, Cubans. You know, so that group has begun to be assimilated with each other than was the case. The African American population was assimilated, essentially, for all of those centuries in slavery. Asian Americans, national populations arriving–different languages, not necessarily seeing themselves as part of the same group. America presents that you’re to be seen as one group approach to people. So I think that it’s the differences in experiences.
I haven’t mentioned Native Americans. Obviously, present with interested and contradictory ways in which they participate and relate to the national U.S., with the legal status as sovereign nations, but yet also they became citizens in the 1920s–1925–and so there’s a contradiction of yes, they get to vote, except they’re permitted to vote. Yes, they’re sovereign nations in relation to the U.S., but they’re also participants. And so, they tend not to–because of the tribal status–they tend to enter in terms of the state legislative representation, not so much at the national level. And the local level is tribal organization and self-governance. So, you’ve got very different structures of histories in the U.S., arrival, how the communities are structured, and that produces, I would argue, very different patterns. In terms of African American women, for example, they’ve been in churches for hundreds of years. They’ve been in social and other kinds of civic organizations. And the other groups are either not present, in the case of the Asian American population, a very small proportion of people are Chinese, but not the Japanese, not the Filipino, not the Vietnamese, the Cambodian, etc. So it creates a really different set of structures and patterns of participation.”