Racist Graffiti on Angela Alsobrooks’ Campaign Sign Is a Reminder of the Threats Black Women in Politics Face

Maryland Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Angela Alsobrooks walks in the Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival Parade on June 19, 2024 in Potomac, Md. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

The recent defacement of Maryland U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Angela Alsobrooks’ campaign sign with hateful and threatening messages highlights the persistent racism and abuse that women—especially Black women—endure when seeking to run, win, serve and lead in our politics. Such acts, including the brandishing of “KKK” by vandals and a target drawn on her forehead, assault both individual dignity and democratic principles.

In our work with women political leaders, we repeatedly hear about increasing personal threats and toxicity at every level of government. As cited recently by Rob Richie in the Washington Post, CivicPulse found that about half of our local leaders experience hostility relating to their service at least once a month. At the same time, Princeton University’s “Bridging Divides Initiative” reports that 1 in 6 have been threatened. A comprehensive 2023 report on political violence in the United States by Protect Democracy and Johns Hopkins’ The Agora Institute found that “women and people of color are disproportionately targeted—and there is some evidence that this leads them to ‘opt-out’ of visible public service roles in the first place.”

The heinous act against a prominent politician shows that threats of violence are an all too real reality, in particular for Black women. Angela Alsobrooks and all Black women in politics deserve our support and respect as they serve their communities. At RepresentWomen, we are committed to uncovering the obstacles faced by Black women in politics through assiduously researching how system reforms can result in solutions to increase their representation in government.

Our 2024 brief, “Breaking Barriers for Black Women in Politics,” showcased the hurdles Black women are forced to contend with, such as biases, misogyny and flawed political practices. We proposed early investments by political parties, adopting gender and race-based funding measures by donors and PACs, and ranked-choice voting (RCV). Now, the time has come for us to turn our focus to the in-person and online attacks that some candidates face, not only because they are women but because they are Black women.

Alsobrooks is not the first Black woman in politics to receive racist abuse, and she will not be the last. The issue of abuse against Black women in politics is historic and systemic. Prominent figures like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Maxine Waters have all endured racist and misogynistic slurs, misinformation campaigns and threats of violence aimed at undermining their campaigns, qualifications and personal safety. These gender and race-based attacks also impact Black women working at the statewide executive, state legislative and local levels of government, as well as the judiciary. Society rarely acknowledges the emotional and mental toll these attacks engender, but the cost to these candidates’ well-being is undoubtedly high.

To his credit, Alsobrooks’ Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, criticized the defacement of her sign, saying: “Hate, threats of violence, and racism must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. They have no place in Maryland.”

Unfortunately, national Republicans have been slower to criticize similar words and actions, which underscores the urgent need for measures to protect and support these politicians in their roles. While all candidates run the risk of facing abuse due to the nature of their work, the type of abuse directed at women is uniquely dangerous due to the historical precedent of hatred and violence.

In an exclusive statement to RepresentWomen, former mayor of Kankakee, Ill., Chasity Wells-Armstrong, said:

“We have seen increasing incidents of bullying, threats and harassment toward women candidates. Unfortunately, the recent vandalism of U.S. Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks’ campaign sign indicates the additional challenges women face outside the policy debates. I, too, experienced vandalism, signs being removed, and renters being told by their Republican landlords that they could not display my signs on their property. This practice is an overreach regarding renter’s rights, civil campaigns and our overall democracy.”

Failing to protect Black women endangers other candidates who are minoritized by gender, race or religion by setting a recklessly low standard of care and perpetuating outdated social hierarchies. It is imperative for all groups and individuals committed to a representative democracy to champion the authorization for candidates to use campaign funds to hire security personnel and staff. This approach empowers candidates to protect themselves, their teams and their supporters proactively.

Portland City Council member and RepresentWomen’s national partnerships manager Victoria Pelletier expressed her solidarity with Alsobrooks while echoing calls for campaign funding reform:

“The vandalism of Angela Alsobrooks’ campaign sign is deeply saddening but not surprising. Black women in visible positions of power are often targets of intimidation and violence. Calls to ‘support Black women’ should be accompanied by demands for policy changes, including using campaign funds for adequate safety measures.”

Americans can also play a vital role in reshaping mindsets and endorsing social movements aimed at eradicating deeply ingrained misogynistic perceptions of women in leadership positions. Fostering introspection and reflection on both conscious and subconscious biases and stereotypes surrounding nontraditional candidates, such as people of color and women, is crucial in mitigating the degradation and harassment they often encounter. When implemented collectively and continuously, these solutions can address the underrepresentation of women in politics.

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About and

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.
Marvelous Maeze is a research associate at RepresentWomen. She authored the research brief, "Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates." She graduated from Columbia University with a master of arts in human rights studies and New York University’s College of Arts and Science, where she earned a bachelor of arts in political science.