Racism occurs in political races and affects the success of Black candidates, as they campaign to win political power. With a record number of white nationalists running for office, more Black folks have come out to hold elected positions, as a way to combat the systematic racism that Black people face.Through campaigning, Black candidates are broadcasting their existence and putting themselves in the line of racist anarchy, in hopes of combating the white dominance in our political offices. Their presence in these white-dominated spaces acts as a signal flare for other Black people to join them in taking both political action and office to address the impact of systematic racism on our lives.
Here are 5 different racist obstacles that Black political candidates have to face while running for office:
1.) Suppression of Physical and Political Movement
Black political candidates are granted less access to voters through the restriction of their movement in the communities they are trying to reach. Common methods for engaging voters is through door to door campaigning and town hall discussions. However, some Black candidates are stopped during these exchanges, often by police.
In August, neighbors called the police on a Black woman they believed was "waiting on drugs." The Black woman in question was Sheila Stubbs, a candidate for the 77th District in Wisconsin’s State Assembly. Stubbs was canvassing and talking to voters in her district, when police arrived in response to the call. Representative Janelle Bynum had a similar occurrence happen to her when she was accused of “casing” the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, police harassment isn’t a new obstacle for Black people. Harassment from police is a reminder that white supremacy has a whole institution in place to prevent the political mobilization of Black people, and can work to overshadow a Black candidate’s legitimacy to run for office.
2.) Suppression of Safety and Well-being
Another tactic used is compromising the emotional and mental safety of the candidate and their loved ones. This method is often carried out through death threats and racial attacks. It is also often carried out by the actual individual constituents, who hide behind online invisibility to escape real consequences.
Although death threats are real threats to a person’s life, they are rarely carried out, and are instead sent as a form of intimidation. Black candidates have no choice but to take these threats seriously, especially since it puts more lives other than their own in immediate danger. Black candidates have to adapt and overcome hypervigilance toward their surroundings, in addition to overcoming the emotional and mental turmoil from the effects of hateful comments and attacks.
Black political candidates are offered little to no protection against death threats, and are often forced to withdraw from races to protect themselves. An example of this is Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), who — although she secured her name on the November ballot as the only Black, woman legislator in Vermont — decided not to run for a third term as state representative, due to online racial attacks throughout her current term.
In her departure announcement via her FaceBook page, she wrote, “It is my hope that as a state, we will continue to demand greater support and protections for one another from those forces which seek to divide and destroy our communities.”
A Black political candidate should never have to make the choice between advocating for their political advancement and their own life.
3.) Suppression of Identity
Often, Black candidates cannot express their love and concern for the Black community without facing outcry from white people. Their love for the Black community is seen as reverse racism and/or as a sentiment of anti-whiteness. Black political candidates then feel they have to suppress their racial and cultural identity in order to appease other non-Black voters.
At The Collective PAC’s Black Campaign School, a three-day training program geared toward increasing Black representation in politics, candidates discussed the policing of creative expression with Black hair and the implications voters would have with candidates wearing relaxed versus natural hair. One of the training instructors, Jessica Byrd, an electoral strategist who has worked on campaigns of over 40 states, rejected the idea of buying into imposed respectability and identity politics on Black political candidates.
“We’re never going to build the things we want to build if everyone has to look like a carbon copy, like each other,” Byrd said.
There is an unsaid expectation for Black candidates to not campaign on policies focusing on issues that affect the Black community. In Minneapolis, Black political candidates came together in a panel discussion last year to talk about expectations posed to them that weren’t placed on their white opponents, such as whether or not they were only going to represent Black people. And although white candidates are hardly if ever asked whether they were “only going to represent white people,” one Black candidate, Samantha Pree-Stinson, emphasized that by addressing issues that Black people face puts important issues to the forefront for all people.
4.) Suppression of Political Advancement or Financial Support
Fundraising is one of the hardest parts of sustaining a political run. Black political candidates receive less amounts of money from voters and organizations than their white opponents. This means that Black political candidates are less likely to stay the course with their campaigns and build the foundation it takes to maintain the engagement and commitment of their staff and the voters they are trying to reach. It also lowers their promotional impact to a larger range of voters, who aren’t aware that Black candidates are even running.
Another component that prevents financial support is when the candidate isn’t endorsed or backed by a prominent elected official, popular political figure or their political party. The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have failed to back many Black candidates with institutional support in past primaries although they’ve exclaimed that Black women are the “backbone” of the party. Out of 43 Black women running for House seats, only Lauren Underwood, a Black woman candidate for Illinois, was backed by the DCCC, leading in over $1,000,000 in fundraising.
Without money or political backing, Black candidates receive less publicity and attention, making them almost invisible to voters who are not informed and seen as less credible as a candidate. They are then forced to close up shop and end their campaign without any chance at advancing to the primaries. Kerri Harris, a Senate candidate for Delaware, didn’t accept donations from corporations, didn’t receive institutional support, and couldn’t even afford yard signs for her campaign until two weeks before the primary. She ended up losing the primaries to her opponent, Tom Carper, who had enough backing to win.
5.) Suppression of Humanity in the Media
Image is everything, when it comes to running for office. This becomes increasingly hard to manage when different media outlets craft an image of a Black candidate that caters to their stereotypes and misconceptions of Black people.
An political ad posted on social media by Kathy Hochul, a white candidate for lieutenant governor for New York, drew outcries of racism, after the ad targeted the financial struggles of Black candidate Jumaane Williams. This ad catered specifically to the stereotype of poverty and money mismanagement imposed on Black people as a whole. Rather than critiquing his financial responsibility as a member of the New York City Council, the ad goes after his personal financial problems including a failed business and a foreclosure on his home. Williams ended up losing to Hochul in the Democratic primary.
It’s even harder to try to change those media perceptions as a candidate without falling trap to those racist portrayals of “the angry Black” candidate. Minneapolis candidate Pree-Stinson recounted an incident where she had to “go into the comments and make a case for yourself without sounding like the angry Black woman,” after a blog post that mentioned her candidacy didn’t show her in the best light.
Black Congressional candidate Antonio Delgado was hit with an ad by his opponent, John Faso, which intercut clips from a music video he created in his past career as a rap artist, then ends by showing Delgado in a hoodie. It is clear that the ad was intending to play off of stereotypes of Black men as “hoodlums,” whose ability to spit rhymes makes them unable to be taken seriously enough to hold any consistent or important position of power. The motto of "any publicity is good publicity" doesn’t apply to Black candidates, whose campaign can go down in one racialized media hit.
Even with all of these obstacles that Black political candidates face, a small percentage of them win. But we can push for more Black people in office by becoming aware of their existence in political races, and contributing to their success with financial, digital and voting support. Let our political support show the Black candidates we believe in that they are not alone in their fight against white supremacy, and we are here to see them win.