We are the last ones to be invited into the room and the last to be consulted. We are stereotyped, misunderstood, underestimated and treated as second class in a white man’s world.
For Black women, that experience pervades every professional arena — from corporations to the arts and entertainment to government and politics.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has lived it, from her rise from a troubled childhood in the Cabrini-Green housing project to becoming the first African American woman to serve as the county’s top prosecutor.
Foxx has long felt “muted” by advisers and allies, she said last week. Told that she cannot wear her hair “natural.” Told not to fold her arms in photos, for fear of being perceived as an “angry Black woman.” Told she was not qualified, while white men with lighter resumes got ahead.
“We don’t talk about the subtle differences in how candidates of color are treated, particularly Black women, and oftentimes feeling very muted, feeling very unheard,” she said.
That leaves her “challenged every day to operate in a system that was not built for me to be successful,” reads a statement on her campaign website.
In March, Foxx won a grueling Democratic primary contest and will stand for reelection in November. As the nation grapples with the racial awakening spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Foxx is asking her supporters to “move forward and root out systemic racism.”
She recently convened meetings with her campaign staff, consultants and donors, she said in an interview, and called on them to sign on to a “pledge to fight for racial justice.”
She told them, “It is no longer enough to say, ‘I supported the Black woman candidate, and that shows that I care about race equity,’” Foxx said. “I want you to be able to look at, you know, your relationships, who you bring to the table” in the political infrastructure.
She is working to make her own political operation a racial equity model and asking her supporters to diversify their own staffs, operations, communications and spending, among other initiatives. The pledge is detailed on her website.
The Foxx campaign contracts with nine consulting firms, according to spokesperson Alexandra P. Sims. Most employ few people of color.
After meeting with Foxx, eight of them signed on to the pledge, Sims said.
Pete Giangreco is a 30-year veteran and partner with the Strategy Group and has worked on many campaigns, including Barack Obama’s presidential runs. While his firm “has always tried to reach out,” Foxx helped convince him he needed to “double down,” he said.
He added four women to his Chicago staff, including three women of color, and credits “Kim’s call to do more and do better. Everything that happened in the world, you know, made us internally just want to be more intentional about it.”
He added, “I just think there’s a lot of us [in politics who] think we’re pretty progressive. But, you know, that really understanding just how deep some of our issues are and how far they go back in history,” a racial history, he said, that’s been “whitewashed.”
Dozens of Foxx donors have signed on, among them Bettylu Saltzman, Chuck Lewis, state Sen. Heather Steans and her husband, Leo Smith, and Michael Sacks, part owner of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I want to see sustained attention and investment in equity in all aspects” of politics, Foxx said.
Her pledge may be unprecedented in politics. It is certainly long overdue.
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Laura S. Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC-7 Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @mediadervish