Historicizing Black Women’s Leadership in the U.S, 09/10/2019, #2
This week, I strongly connected with Stacey Abrams’s Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change. The text chronicled some of her struggles as she navigated institutional barriers to becoming a successful politician as a black woman and sought to connect with outsiders who want to make effective change, attain positions of leadership, and gather the insight and discipline to influence others. I will tackle this text by analyzing the seemingly personal internal struggles that members of marginalized groups face and connecting them with their institutional and sociological parallels. My motivation for doing this is that people often think not feeling confident or struggling to rise in leadership is something that can be individually changed through willpower. I dissent from this idea, and I will be using Abram’s insight to highlight why this often does not accurately reflect what happens to black women in these circumstances.
One of the key themes of the text was fear. Abrams argued that in order to advance oneself, one must acknowledge the potency of fear and how it is able to hinder growth potential. Fear may seem like a personal obstacle but Abram’s framed it as a learned systematic response to seeing privilege in action (p. 29), more specifically attributed to stereotype threat and the authenticity conundrum. The tension between trying to disprove stereotypes about oneself but not disassociate with a group one may identify with is a constant struggle that shapes leaders’ though processes and decisions. This is more sociological than personal, because it regards dismantling structures of privilege cause these issues to arise in the first place. Abram’s tied this to her own reluctance to run for governor of Georgia and how she feared failure.
Another example that I think demonstrates tension between stereotype threat and the authenticity conundrum is the that with black women who possess political roles, the question often arises of who she represents (her own or the oppressor?). Lukewarm support for marginalized communities or even outright implementation of oppressive policies creates this form criticism. Carole Boyce-Davies provided a fitting example in “Con-di-fi-cation. Black Women, Leadership and Political Power.” She notes that Condoleeza Rice has received similar backlash for saying things, such as that Bush was a smart and intelligent man (p. 73). Similar critiques have since surfaced about Kamala Harris in what many view as a tendency to maintain and support oppressive systems.
The other aspect of Abram’s book is the idea that gaining representation is a matter of owning opportunity. Despite structural financial barriers she describes in depth in the chapter 5, Money Matters (p. 104), she notes that being ambitious and pursuing purpose is an obligation to make change. One particularly notable example is that she raised $3.5 million and submitted more than 86,000 voter registration apps for processing in Georgia, in an attempt to increase voter turnout in marginalized communities. However, I was also able to see the institutional pushback, as the project was placed under investigation by the Secretary of State for potential misconduct, given the its rapid success. These readings have highlighted unique forms of oversight or identity-based critique that black female political leaders experience.
Carole Boyce Davies, “Con-di-fi-cation. Black Women, Leadership and Political Power.” Feminist Africa (6: March): 67-84.
Stacy Abrams, Lead from the Outside. How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change. Picador, 2019.
James Arkin, “Dems go all-out to land top Senate recruit: Stacey Abrams.” POLITICO, January 2019.