It looks like after years of so-called “equal rights,” it is still tough to be a black woman in a prominent position. Just ask 5-term, New York Democratic congresswoman, Yvette D. Clarke. Mrs. Clarke told the Washington Post she is still stopped by police and asked to “verify” her identity before entering the U.S. Capitol building.
“I can get on an elevator with some of my colleagues and they still ask me who I work for. Sometimes, just coming into the House complex, I have to show my ID and make sure my [member] pin is shown … I’m not given the benefit of the doubt,” says Clarke.
Come to find out, Clarke holds the former congressional seat of trailblazer Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman to run for president.
Because Clarke knows that Washington is still not a conducive environment for women of color, she sets out to make them feel welcome. “I make a point of acknowledging all of the women that I encounter on Capitol Hill, whether they are cafeteria workers, whether they are operating the train that takes us between the Capitol and the House office complex, or whether they are part of the maintenance staff. We are in a very male-dominated environment, and people are oftentimes overlooked. To see colleagues here on the Hill that won’t even acknowledge a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon,’ it’s disheartening. But it reminds me of why I’m here,” she said.
Clarke says the advice from her mother (whom she succeed on the New York City Council) that she treasures the most is to “speak truth to power” and to “be the voice of the voiceless,” despite that being challenging to do in Washington.
While she says that it’s possible for a woman of color to lead the House or Senate Democrats in her career, there are many obstacles ahead of that person. She said, “I think women of color have had to impose their leadership and build common cause. I don’t think they are given the benefit of the doubt by virtue of their presence and their work. They’re not given the type of deference that you see with other folks on the Hill. That’s an ongoing challenge.”
On how her feminism affects her activism, Clarke said that it is all about intersectionality, and “you don’t really get it, until you get it.” She used recent police violence as an example, saying, “Take the dialogues we’re having about gun violence and police shootings. There may be some level of compassion [from Republicans] but there isn’t necessarily a willingness to confront this historical legacy that has brought us to this point, the point where we’re having to emphasize that black lives matter.”
Clarke confronts the issue head-on, saying that black males being killed is now like “business as usual.” She said, “There is nothing that really protects their lives if the officer decides they got up on the wrong side of the bed, or they fear young black males or they decide they just don’t like them. If this level of killing of young white males were taking place in America, everything would stop. Americans who are not people of color have the right to ask questions. We try each and every day, but that’s where the intersectionality has not occurred.”
You can read the Washington Post’s full interview with Clarke here.
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