Distinct Identities
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Distinct Identities

Minority Women in U.S. Politics

Nadia E. Brown, Sarah Allen Gershon

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eBook - ePub

Distinct Identities

Minority Women in U.S. Politics

Nadia E. Brown, Sarah Allen Gershon

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À propos de ce livre

Minority women in the United States draw from their unique personal experiences, born of their identities, to impact American politics. Whether as political elites or as average citizens, minority women demonstrate that they have a unique voice that more often than not centers on their visions of justice, equality, and fairness.

In this volume, Dr. Nadia E. Brown and Sarah Allen Gershon seek to present studies of minority women that highlight how they are similar and dissimilar to other groups of women or minorities, as well as variations within groups of minority women. Current demographic and political trends suggest that minority populations-specifically minority women-will be at the forefront of shaping U.S. politics. Yet, scholars still have very little understanding of how these populations will behave politically. This book provides a detailed view of how minority women will utilize their sheer numbers, collective voting behavior, policy preferences, and roles as elected officials to impact American politics.

The scholarship on intersectionality in this volume seeks to push beyond disciplinary constraints to think more holistically about the politics of identity.

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Informations

Éditeur
Routledge
Année
2016
ISBN
9781317338833
1
INTRODUCTION
Nadia E. Brown and Sarah Allen Gershon
We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences 
 to make sure that others 
 do not have to suffer the same discrimination.
Rep. Patsy T. Mink
The quote by Patsy Mink – the first Asian American Congresswoman (D-HI), the first Asian American to seek the Democratic Party nomination for president, co-author of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Chairwoman of the Honolulu City Council, and posthumous winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – demonstrates that minority women in the United States draw from their unique personal experiences to impact American politics. Mink’s raced/gendered identities alongside her identities as a third generation Japanese-American, mother, wife, and lawyer influenced her progressive politics. She was the consummate advocate for women’s rights, minority rights, and protector of marginalized communities. Like Mink, the women present in this volume also pull from their multiple identities as women of color to influence American politics. Whether as political elites or as citizens, minority women demonstrate that they have a unique voice that more often than not centers on their visions of justice, equality, and fairness. Furthermore, the studies of minority women in this edited volume also show that this population is committed to creating an America that is better tomorrow than it is today. Similar to Patsy Mink, many of the women of color in this book have faced adversity but choose to use these setbacks as building blocks rather than stumbling blocks. Here, we pay homage to Mink’s legacy, using minority women as a focal point to demonstrate how far America has progressed and where there is still room left for growth.
While we can readily point to influential women of color who were the first to achieve various political offices or the growing influence of minority women as mass citizens in American politics, scant few political science studies have researched both these avenues of minority women’s politics in one scholarly volume. Additionally, the majority of studies only address one particular group of women of color – i.e., African Americans, Latinas, Asian American, or Native women. In this volume, we present studies of minority women that highlight how they are similar and dissimilar to other groups of women of color as well as nuances and variations within groups of minority women. As such, we present a more comprehensive picture of how minority women behave politically by focusing on their policy preferences, political behavior, and impact as political elites.
To be clear, we are not arguing that all minority women have similar raced/gendered experiences because of their marginalized status as women in a patriarchal society or as racial minorities in a country founded on White supremacy. Nor are we are arguing that minority women are always placed at a disadvantage in American society. Instead, we seek to elucidate how being a woman of color leads to unique political experiences, viewpoints, and behaviors. While the term “women of color” is problematic because it marks minority women as the other and Whites as identity free, this catch-all term for minority women is the best descriptor for describing this population. While the term denotes all non-White persons, it is used frequently for Black women who were the first to theorize feminist ideologies that were different than White women (Collins 1990; hooks 1984). Additionally, while research on women of color is small, in proportional terms research on African American women as political actors outweighs scholarship on Latinas and Asian American women. In a response to this scholarly oversight, we include several chapters on Asian American women, Latinas, and we have one chapter on Native women in American politics, as well as work across groups of women of color.
Why Study Minority Women in U.S. Politics?
For decades, feminist scholars and women of color academics have argued that minority women have been understudied in American politics (Junn and Brown 2008). Indeed, the subfield of women and politics within political science is marked by a willingness to ignore and marginalize the experiences of women of color. Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Political Woman (1974) ushered in the study of women in politics within the discipline. This canonical text did not meaningfully address differences in political experiences and behavior of ethnic/minority women. Unfortunately, the trajectory laid forth by Kirkpatrick has largely continued into the present study of women in politics despite the challenge from minority women – as both scholars and activists – to include different perspectives within feminist scholarship. Rather than wait for the mainstream discipline of political science to embrace minority women as legitimate subjects of study and scholarly examination, brave women of color academics began to write and publish their own scholarship that prioritized their unique race/gendered experiences. Take for example, Marianne Githens and Jewel Prestage’s (1977) A Portrait of Marginality that places special emphasis on the role of Black women in American politics. The authors conclude that women are not socialized to become political actors, but more specifically, that politics are accessed using male-based criteria that place women at a disadvantage. Prestage (1977) finds that Black women are underrepresented in state legislatures which leads her to conclude that this population is doubly disadvantaged – both as women and as Blacks.
Yet, as the chapters in this edited volume elucidate, women of color are not necessarily doubly disadvantaged and there is much work to be done in understanding the experiences of minority women across groups and time. As Christina Bejarano (2013) forcefully argues, women of color can and often do use their identities as women and as members of a racial/ethnic minority for their benefit which increases their chances for winning elected office. The Latina Advantage convincingly disputes theories of double jeopardy (Beale 1979), or multiple jeopardy (King 1988), to argue that women of color are not uniformly politically disadvantaged because of their identities as minority women. Yet, mainstream political science scholarship as well as the subfield of women and politics often starts from the supposition that minority women are placed at a political disadvantage. Many scholars begin with this premise, often ignoring the work of minority women scholars who have showcased the dynamism of women of color in American politics (Jordan-Zachery 2014). Indeed, the academic erasure of women of color in women and politics scholarship greatly alters our collective understanding of politics, produces normative narratives about who can be legitimate subjects of inquiry, and has political consequences for how knowledge is produced (Alexander-Floyd 2012). As a result, silencing the voices of women of color or starting a research project by asking questions that assume that gender/race is always a hindrance for minority women produces an incomplete picture of this population.
In this volume, we seek to center the politics of minority women as a way to provide a fuller and richer depiction of these women’s politics. The importance of paying specific attention to women of color is often touted as a signal to the growing diversity in the United States. This segment of the U.S. population has proven to be a vital part of American politics and, with recent minority growth in the mass population, will continue to shape the future of American politics. Women vote at higher rates than men, but their electoral preferences and behavior varies significantly within racial and ethnic categories. For example, while women make up 53 percent of the electorate, it was minority women who forcefully turned out in 2008 and 2012 for President Obama. Furthermore, it was women of color who widened the gender gap in the 2012 election. Ninety-six percent of Black women supported President Obama, as did 76 percent of Latinas and 66 percent of all other non-Hispanic women of color. This is compared to only 42 percent of White women. Research indicates that minority women are more politically active than their male counterparts and at times out-participate White women (Bejarano 2014; Brown 2014). This modern racialized gender gap should motivate both political parties to actively seek the minority women’s vote.
The racial demographics are rapidly changing in America. According to the 2010 Census, non-White Hispanics are 16 percent of the population, Blacks are 12 percent, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders are 6 percent, and multiracial individuals are 3 percent of the nation’s population. Indeed, the fastest growing populations in the U.S. are Latinos, multi-ethnics, and those of Asian descent. The demographic and political trends suggest that minority populations – specifically minority women – will be at the forefront of shaping U.S. politics. Yet, scholars still have very little understanding of how these populations will behave politically. It is our goal to provide a more detailed view of how minority women will utilize their sheer numbers, collective voting behavior, policy preferences, and roles as elected officials to impact American politics.
The Importance of Intersectionality in Studying Minority Women in Politics
Intersectionality refers to the various forms of oppression that are interrelated and cause intersections between systems of domination that result in unique practices of discrimination (Crenshaw 1989). For example, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other forms of bigotry do not act independently of one another. Yet, multiple forms of discrimination operate together to form systemic injustice and sociopolitical inequality. Feminist scholars have used intersectionality as an analytical tool to theorize about identity and oppression (Nash 2008). However, Crenshaw (1989) insists that intersectionality is best used as a heuristic to do things rather than as theory of identity (Carbado et al. 2013). As a result, we cannot conflate intersectionality with identity politics. Instead, we use intersectionality as an analytical tool to examine the process of identity creation, provide an understanding of social forces, to investigate how material realities are structured by interdependent systems of domination. Intersectionality as an analytical tool reduces essentialism by calling attention to the process that leads to gendered hierarchies, racial inequality, and biological determinism (Hawkesworth 2006). We are not arguing that identities are static in our use of intersectionality, but rather highlighting how intersectionality as an analytical tool allows feminist researchers to examine the power relations that maintain forms of oppression.
Minority women experience structural inequality based on their race and gender as interdependent, interactive, and dynamic rather than independent and static. The experiences of women of color are mediated by interlocking systems of domination that are constructed by race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, and ability (Baca Zinn and Thornton Dill 1996). These systems of power dictate the allocation of political resources. Additionally, women of color’s access to and relationship with the state and benefits of citizenship differs significantly from that of other groups. While women of color share similar experiences with their racial/ethnic male counterparts and White women, they have experiences that uniquely position them in lower social, political, and economic strata due to the confluence of race/ethnicity and gender (Chow et al. 1996; Landry 2006). Discrimination is not static and racism and sexism are experienced differently among women of color. Understanding the complexities of both the multiplicity and fluidity of identity necessitates that scholars disavow a binary approach to identity politics. As Simien (2007, 264) explicates,
political science as a discipline historically has had limited relevance and prescriptive utility for individuals and groups that confront interlocking systems of oppression, as it has largely ignored the intersection (or interaction) of race, class, and gender in American politics.
Furthermore, the inequalities within identity must be made plural and viewed through often contradictory, socially embedded, and mutually constitutive forms. These inequalities may influence the participation and representation of minority women. Thus we argue that the gendered and racialized identities of minority women will impact their behavior, experiences, and outlook within American politics.
Given the population’s uneven distribution of incomes, histories of political incorporation, length of time in America, national origins, and differing generational attitudes, this book places specific focus on sub-group, intraracial, and inter-racial analyses. We move beyond White women as the default category in women and politics literature to complicate how we understand the experiences of minority women in U.S. politics (Junn and Brown 2008). For example, Asian Americans – could not become naturalized citizens until the passage of the McCarran–Walter Act (1952); African Americans were denied access to voting until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA); and Latinos, who were also uniformly granted suffrage with the 1965 VRA, were ultimately unable to exercise this right in several states until Section 5 was extended to states with large Latino populations in 1982. Understanding the differences in when communities of color were given unrestricted access to the ballot muddles the neat construction that women were uniformly given the right to vote with the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment. Thus, women of color did not equally gain suffrage when women were granted the right to vote. Minority women’s history of marginalization and discrimination has had lasting impact on their present-day politics. As a result of minority women’s unequal access to the American government, differing patterns of political behavior, policy preferences, and political mobilization are apparent. These byproducts of racialization and gendered hierarchies prohibit a uniform comparison of groups between minority women with White women, minority men, and White men.
We argue that intersectionality is a useful method for asking and answering new scholarly inquiries that recognize deficiencies in existing scholarship on women and/or racial minorities. While we challenge scholars to move beyond the deficit model of minority women’s politics, as either double jeopardy or multiple jeopardy models, we maintain that the structural barriers that shape the lives of women of color have material consequences for the politics of this population. We must understand the limitations, barriers, and sociopolitical constructions that often disadvantage women of color, yet understand how these unique factors also create opportunities for minority women.
Chapter Outline and Rationale
The chapters in this volume fall into four categories: mass behavior and attitudes, voter evaluations of minority women candidates, the mass media’s coverage of minority women, and the road to office for women of color. The data and methods employed by the contributors of this volume are varied and multifaceted. From national surveys, elite interviews, historical analysis, experiments, content analysis, and policy case studies, the diverse data sources provide poignant and substantive findings and theoretically significant conclusions about the role of minority women in U.S. politics. Rather than approaching the study of women of color in American politics through a homogenous lens, this edited volume uniquely allows for the wide-ranging and assorted questions about participation and representation in ways that best present the full range of experiences, attitudes, and behavior of minority women. Our chapters explicitly speak to one another and provide readers the unique opportunity to consider minority women’s politics in its multiple dimensions.
The first several chapters center on intersectionality, mass political behavior, and attitudes in the U.S. In this section, the authors explore how identity shapes the political behaviors and attitudes of women of color in the U.S. As the American electorate continues to diversify and the number of minority women in the population grows, identifying the forces shaping political attitudes and participation among women of color is critical. The diverse set of ...

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