Teaching Race, Ethnicity, and Politics: Why Study Black Women in Political Science?

Why Study Black Women in Political Science?

Jenn Jackson (Syracuse University) and Natasha Altema McNeely (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley)

In this resource guide, we provide a brief conversation on Black women’s experiences with institutions, Black Feminism, and the pedagogical possibilities of centering Black women in our work. Then, we offer some discussion questions as well as a curated reading list for instructors interested in grappling with the study of Black women’s experiences and the dismantling of systems that exclude those experiences from classrooms and campuses.

Black Women’s Lived Experiences and the Risks to Black Bodies

Black women continue to prove their importance for helping political parties remain in power, yet those and other institutions continue to take their contributions for granted Brown and Dowe 2020; Brown and Lemi 2020). Being taken for granted by political and non-political institutions  carries grave consequences for Black women. For example, the lack of value assigned to the bodies of Black women and other patients of color occur within  medical institutions (Michener 2018). A depressing yet important example is found in the ever increasing rates of Black Maternal Mortality in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die compared to non-Hispanic white mothers (2019). As serious as this racial health disparity is, few political scientists recognize and examine the political implications of this and other racial health disparities. One way to remedy this omission is to incorporate discussions of racial health disparities in our courses. For example, discussions in Gender & Politics as well as State & Local Politics courses can include efforts to reduce Black Maternal Mortality as forms of  descriptive and substantive representation for Black women across federal, state, and local governments. . More general discussions of racial health disparities and factors that contribute to them can be incorporated into Public Policy courses.

When we take into account the ways that institutions perceive Black women as both hypervisible (a critical voting bloc and political voice) and invisible (an oft overlooked aggregate group whose life outcomes are disparately impacted), we might find that Black women themselves are the best guides for how to address these differences in recognition, inclusion, and treatment.

Discussion Questions by Subject-Matter-Area

Syllabus Construction and Course Content:
  1. Does my syllabus include women of color, especially Black women? Do students know that those scholars have been included?
  2. Have I considered sources outside of the “canonical” thinkers?
  3. Are there interlocutors and other thinkers of color who might help develop my course further?
  4. Does my syllabus convey intentional inclusivity of all groups of students, especially those who are most marginalized?
Classroom Accessibility & Inclusive Teaching:
  1. How do I set the tone to discuss issues of anti-Blackness, misogynoir, and the uniquely harmful experiences facing Black women?
  2. Does my classroom environment allow students to show up in their marginalized identities without persecution or exclusion?
  3. Have I conveyed to students that my class should be both a brave and safe space? (meaning we should be comfortable with being challenged in our existing beliefs and biases knowing that the classroom is a site of political possibility)
Academic Culture:
  1. How can I challenge my own complicity in Black women’s excess labor exploitation? What are potential indications that I am over relying on Black women to do the work of racial justice?
  2. How can I engage in institution building both in my department and on my broader campus that can shift the culture to be more inclusive of all marginalized groups?
  3. How can I allocate campus resources like money and time to initiatives that create racial and gender equity?
Reference List

Brown, Nadia E. and Pearl Ford Dowe. 2020. “Late to the Party: Political Parties Inconsistent Support of Black Women Candidates.” Good Reasons to Run, eds., Shauna Shames, Rachel Bernhard, Dawn Teele, and Mirya Holman. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Brown, Nadia. E., & Lemi, Danielle. C.(2020. " ‘Life for Me Ain't Been No Crystal Stair’: Black Women Candidates and the Democratic Party”. BUL Rev., 100, 1613.

Carby, Hazel. 1987. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, Cathy J. 1999. The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

—————. 2010. Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. 1991. “Mapping the Origins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review. 43(6): 1241-1299.

Davis, Angela Y. 1972. “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves. The Massachusetts Review. 13(): 81-100 .Green, Tiffany, L. 2019. “What Drives Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Prenatal Care for Expectant Mothers?” https://scholars.org/contribution/what-drives-racial-and-ethnic-disparities-prenatal-care-expectant-mothers

Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. 1995. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. New York, NY: The New Press.

Harris, Cheryl I. 1993. "Whiteness as property." Harvard Law Review. 1707-1791.

Harris-Lacewell, Melissa V. 2004. Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Harris-Perry, Melissa. 2011. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1989. “Beyond The Sound of Silence: Afro-American Women in History.” Gender and History,1(1): 50-67.

Hill Collins, Patricia. 2000. Black Feminist Thought. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hooks, Bell. 1988. Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black. Toronto: Between the Lines.

James, Joy and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting. 2000. The Black Feminist Reader. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Lorde, Audre. [1984] 2007. Sister Outsider. New York: Crown Publishing and Random House.

Michener, J. 2018. “The politics and policy of racism in American health care.” Vox https://www.vox.com/polyarchy/2018/5/24/17389742/american-health-care-racism

Moraga, Cherrie and Gloria Anzaldua. 2015. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (Fourth Edition). Albany, NY: SUNY Press

Nash, Jennifer. 2008.  “Re-thinking Intersectionality.Feminist Review 89:1-15.

Omolade, Barbara. 1987. A Black Feminist pedagogy.Women’s Studies Quarterly, 15(3/4), 32–39.

Ransby, Barbara. 2003.  Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement.: A Radical Democratic Vision, Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Roberts, Dorothy E. 1997. Killing the black body: race, reproduction, and the meaning of liberty. New York: Pantheon Books.

The Combahee River Collective Statement: https://americanstudies.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Keyword%20Coalition_Readings.pdf 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. “Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System.” https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Freproductivehealth%2Fmaternalinfanthealth%2Fpmss.html

Scroll to Top