Calling Our Attention to Women of Color

As we watched the achievements of U.S. Olympians this month, we were dazzled by several milestone achievements of women athletes, including many minority women athletes. Several Black women athletes won gold, most notably gymnasts Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas, swimmer Simone Manuel and shot putter Michelle Carter. Manuel was the first Black woman to win individual gold in swimming and Michelle Carter was the first U.S. woman to win gold for shot put. Women’s track and field have excelled with Allyson Felix becoming the most decorated female Olympian and the first ever U.S. sweep of the podium for 100-meter hurdles with Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin. Ibtihaj Muhammad also caught our attention for fencing while wearing a hijab, and will return to the U.S. with a bronze medal in hand. Some prominent Latinas won gold as well, including gymnast Laurie Hernandez, swimmer Maya DiRado, and weightlifter Sarah Robles. Laurie Hernandez served as the first Latina U.S. Olympic gymnast in a decade, and won an individual silver medal in addition to the team gold. There are also several Asian American notable athletes including swimmer Lia Neal, Taekwondo competitor Paige McPherson, and fencer Lee Kiefer. The many other gifted women athletes that dazzled us include the women’s rowing, gymnastics, and basketball teams. Overall, this year’s U.S. Olympic delegation included more women than men (292-263), the most women sent by any country, and – importantly – great diversity among them.

Minority women are also gaining more political attention in this year’s election. Women of color were integral to President Obama’s previous two presidential victories, especially given their high voter turnout rates and their support for the Democratic Party. In 2012, Black and Latina voters were significantly more supportive of President Obama than were White women. In fact, the partisan gender gaps were highest among Black women and Latinas, with their support of President Obama 9 to 11 points higher than their male counterparts. In addition, women across racial/ethnic groups had higher voter turnout rates than their male counterparts.

In 2012, Black women voters had the highest voter turnout rate of any other group. Minority women are essential voters to court for the 2016 presidential election, especially when it is predicted that the gender gap will dramatically increase this election. A recent August 18th poll showed an advantage for Clinton among women and minority supporters, with a gender gap at 12 points and a larger minority gap (Black support at 80 percent and Latino support around 60 percent).


As the summer wraps-up, we can assess the level of political attention towards this key group of voters. Here are a few key takeaways:

1. Both political parties missed an opportunity to select a diverse candidate for their vice president running mate.

This summer there was political hype surrounding the selection of vice presidential running mates for both political parties. Discussion of the potential short lists did not include many women of color. The Republican list of potential candidates included Governor Nikki Haley and Governor Susana Martinez, though neither appeared to be seriously vetted. The Democratic list included both women and minority men, but did not include minority women except for the slim hope that first lady Michelle Obama would agree to be nominated.

2. The national party conventions highlighted a stark contrast in terms of diversity.

mgid-ao-image-mtvThis summer’s Republican and Democratic national conventions highlighted a stark divide in their recognition and participation of minorities, including minority women. Estimates show that non-white delegates represented about 6 percent of RNC delegates and about 50 percent of the DNC delegates.

In terms of convention speakers, about 80 percent of RNC speakers were White. The RNC included a few notable minority women speakers such as Lynne Patton (Eric Trump Foundation) and Dr. Lisa Shin (National Diversity Coalition for Trump). Racial/ethnic minority speakers made up half of all of those who spoke on the DNC stage. Women were also 50 percent of speakers at DNC, compared to being just 28 percent of speakers at the RNC.

Notable DNC speakers included Minnesota State Representative Peggy Flanagan (the first Native American woman speaker at a national party convention), Sarah McBride (the first transgender speaker at a national party convention), first lady Michelle Obama, and the “Mothers of the Movement.” Latina DNC speakers included Astrid Silva (a Latina DREAMer activist), Karla and Francisca Ortiz (a Latina undocumented mother and her daughter), Dolores Huerta (an American labor leader and activist), Anastasia Somoza (a disability rights activist), Lorella Praeli (Clinton’s Latino Outreach Director), and celebrities Eva Longoria and America Ferrera.


Further, several key Black females were at the helm of the Democratic convention, marking the first time that three Black women were chosen for three key leadership posts during the convention. Donna Brazile became interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Marcia Fudge was the permanent chair of the convention, and Reverend Leah Daughtry was the convention’s CEO. Minority women are also half (4 of 8) of the current slate of DNC party officers.

3.  Coalitions are forming to focus on minority women in the 2016 campaign.  

Some groups are taking the initiative and forming their own coalitions so they can target outreach efforts towards minority women voters. For example, a coalition of groups has formed the ‘We Won’t Wait 2016’ campaign (, which is a nonpartisan nonprofit campaign to mobilize women of color voters. The joint effort is working to elevate ‘the voices of women of color, low-income and poor women, immigrant women, and young women to call for a policy agenda that promotes economic security and communities that thrive.” Their website touts a strategy that will target voter education, engagement, and mobilization efforts within key states. This includes a plan to hold 500,000 ‘kitchen table conversations’ or forums to encourage women of color and low-income women to share their stories and policy priorities leading up to the November election. This coalition is utilizing an intersectional framework to highlight a true diversity of issues that will motivate the integral minority women’s vote, with issues that go beyond the traditional ‘women’s issues’ or ‘minority issues’ in the election.

Both presidential candidates have had missteps in their campaigns, especially as they relate to minority and women voters. For example, the Clinton campaign received Latino backlash when they ran a listicle on the campaign website entitled “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela,” which implied Clinton can be compared to Latino grandmothers. The social media backlash was made vocal through a series of twitter hashtags #NotMyAbuela #NotMiAbuela. The Trump campaign has received Latino backlash over many of Trump’s statements, especially for his comments linking Mexican immigrants to rapists and drugs. Both candidates will be tested to demonstrate their policy goals speak more broadly to various minority groups this election. So far, if the national party conventions and recent polling numbers are a good early indication, the Democratic Party is making more in-roads in their outreach towards minority women voters.

As we enter the final phase of the presidential election, each campaign would be wise to pay close attention to the power, priorities, and perspectives of women of color. That power is not only evident in the women Olympians we celebrate this week, but in the minority women voters who can help to sway outcomes on Election Day.


Christina Bejarano, assistant professor, political science

Christina E. Bejarano is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas.  Her research and teaching interests are in American politics, in particular the areas of gender, race/ethnicity, and political behavior.  She is particularly interested in studying the conditions under which racial/ethnic minorities and women successfully compete for U.S. electoral office, which is reflected in her book—The Latina Advantage: Gender, Race, and Political Success (University of Texas Press, 2013).  Her work also focuses on how racial/ethnic minorities and women can shape or influence the current electoral environment, which is reflected in her book—The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics (Routledge Press, 2014).  Bejarano currently serves on the editorial board for Politics & Gender Journal.  She is also on the national advisory council for LatinasRepresent, a joint initiative working to increase Latina political leadership and representation.  Bejarano received her Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from the University of Iowa and her B.A. in psychology from the University of North Texas.