It’s time to end the disrespect toward high-profile Black women leaders

The mayor, the county clerk, a leader alderwoman, even the vice president, are all victims of our nation’s vitriolic political discourse.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot was called ‘relentlessly stupid’ by the head of the CTU, part of the recent trend of disrespect of Black women, members of the Aldermanic Black Caucus write.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was called ‘relentlessly stupid’ by the head of the CTU, part of the recent trend of disrespect of Black women, members of the Aldermanic Black Caucus write.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Countless news reports during the past year have bemoaned the increasing hostility people are expressing towards each other in their everyday interactions. We have seen this lack of civility and respect come to a boil locally as well, especially towards Black women.

This past week, Chicago Teacher’s Union President Jesse Sharkey said Mayor Lori Lightfoot was “relentlessly stupid” in her positions during negotiations of the dispute between the Chicago Public Schools and CTU.

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Ald. Michelle Harris — the chair of the Rules Committee and the first Black woman to ever preside over the ward redistricting process in Chicago’s City Council — has faced more disrespect and disparagement from her colleagues than anyone prior to her. The Latino Caucus has ignored the committee’s proceedings and usurped her authority in a way we have never seen before — by embarking on their own redistricting process, without any prior consultation with other city councilmembers

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough is the vice chair of the Illinois Democratic Party and an executive board committee member of the Cook County Democratic Party. At a recent endorsement session, she was shouted down and personally attacked by a member of the committee, in a manner that became so heated, several party officials intervened. Why? Because she refused to support a candidate supported by that member.

We see this at the national level too.

No vice president in American history has endured more ferocious criticism than Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden has said Harris has his full confidence, and he has given her high-profile assignments. Yet she has faced constant behind-the-scenes gossip, including stories about staff members resigning, and negative anecdotes from sources who won’t speak on the record. 

In all of these instances, the common thread is that Black women are constantly challenged. They have had their intelligence, leadership, or commitments questioned, as if there is nothing they can do that is right.

This disrespectful behavior is especially disheartening as we continue to battle a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed communities of color. During these very difficult times, we continue to see the strength of Black women, who have helped this world keep turning on so many levels.

Despite all of the good they have done, our country has failed to recognize them.

Black women in the U.S. are paid 37% less than white men and 20% less than white women according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Goldman Sachs reports that the disparity leads to Black women having 90% less wealth than white men over their lifespan.

Black women face constant discrimination in all walks of life, even discrimination over their health concerns. They experience shorter life expectancies and higher rates of maternal mortality than their white counterparts.

We implore our colleagues in the political arena to recognize that society is on the edge. Not only has the pandemic affected everyone’s ability to show grace, but politics have become more personal and vitriolic. That is corrosive to our democracy and it gives others permission to treat poorly those in their own community.

It’s time to do better and that should start with Black women. Let’s listen to them more, respect their views, and change the discourse in this country for the better.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th Ward), Ald. David H. Moore (17th Ward), Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th Ward), Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. (21st Ward), Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th Ward), Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th Ward), Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) are members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus.

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