Amplifying the Voices of Brown Girls in Politics

Abby, a college junior who was writing a paper about women of color in politics, recently reached out to me.

While she was conducting research, Abby saw me quoted in an article on the expanding power of Black women’s voices in politics. Eventually, she Googled me and found out more about me. She wanted to talk with me not only because she wanted my insights for the paper, but also because she was hoping to get advice as a young woman of color on how to create a path for herself in politics.

Abby is the reason why I created The Brown Girls Guide to Politics (The BGG), a space where women of color share our stories—hoping that they will resonate and inspire other women of color who are hungry for voices like theirs from the field.

But I also was Abby. I was a young woman who knew she loved politics but had no idea how to translate that into a career, because I did not have enough women of color around me in political roles to teach me. I became a political staffer who had no idea how to navigate the systems and institutions that were built by people that did not look like me. I moved on to roles as a mid-level manager, dealing with micro-aggressions and inappropriate comments from those around me who despite claiming to be “progressive” stereotyped people like me.

Today, I am a senior staffer who sits at the tables that I had hoped and dreamed to be in—and when I look around, I see no one else that looks like me. 

The BGG is expanding this month: We’ve launched a new podcast with Wonder Media Network to further elevate the voices of women of color in politics. We’re diving deep into the aspects of their personal and professional lives that are not mentioned in the mainstream press—from triumphs and tribulations to wins and losses to successes and hardships, The BGG podcast will feature conversations with women of color from all areas of the political ecosystem that center on how they strive and thrive in the ever-changing political world.

The inaugural episode features Leader Stacey Abrams—who shares how women, especially Black women, showed her support and solidarity during and after her 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. Women related to the struggles Abrams faced, and they amplified her message—showing that it is “proof positive” that women are there for each other in politics.

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We speak with Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first Indigenous women in Congress, in a forthcoming episode. Haaland is open and honest during our conversation about being a single mother struggling with alcoholism—and also talks about becoming chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party and now a high-profile freshman Representative. We did the interview in her congressional office, surrounded by her team of women staffers. (Women make up more than 50 percent of her office, which shows how serious she takes being a role model and how committed she is to the professional development of her female staff.)

Madalene Mielke, the CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, opens up in another episode about the white women who were her first mentors and brought her into the world of political fundraising—an area where you see very few women of color. Mielke used the skills that she learned to advocate for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and now she works every single day to increase AAPI political power.

When I spoke to Abby, I told her these stories—and those of Kiah Morris, Sharice Davids, Kathy Tran, Ayanna Pressley and other women of color who were changing the political system at every level. Abby admitted that she had not heard about most of them, and said she appreciated my honesty about the challenges women of color face in politics and how they continue to to create change despite them.

Abby went on to tell me the basis of her paper was that women of color were not influencing politics in a way that would break up the white, male establishment—but after speaking to me, I had changed her mind. She told her professor that she would be writing her paper from the opposite angle.

The BGG podcast only provides more evidence that women of color work to lift as we climb; that we center our work around making our communities better, and that our goal is to make things better for those coming after us. 

This is a podcast for Abby—and all of the Brown girls in politics. But I hope everyone reading this will tune in to hear their stories.

About

A'shanti Gholar is the founder of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics, the political director for Emerge America and a 15-year veteran of political campaigns and progressive organizations.