Black women are not assumed to be rational actors due to the presumption of incompetence acted out through gendered racism or misogynoir, as we have seen with Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris. There is a good reason for this.
Societies tend to view men as more rational individuals when compared to women because they choose the alternative that is likely to give them the greatest satisfaction. These choices are known as rational action which defines a conscious, social actor engaging in deliberate calculating strategies. Such strategies need resources and rational choice theory presents four: (1) time, (2) information, (3) approval, and (4) prestige. The foundation of rational choice theory is that individuals, known as rational actors, will anticipate the outcomes of known alternative courses of action and calculate that which will be best. This in turn creates social order which champions a particular set or system of linked social structures, needed for relating and behaving.
Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia published in 2012 and authored by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, examines the presumptions made about women of color within Academics for social order and evolution because they study the very things that improve society. Black women do this work in academic spaces yet do not get the approval of their colleagues and consequently seldom enjoy the prestige deserved for their contributions.
This further adds to the lack of rational resources available to Black women, because the lack of resources makes it easier to portray Black women as angry, sassy, and overly strong or sexual. These forced characterizations are a particular type of gendered racism because it includes stereotypes that speak negatively to the nature of Black women. This phenomenon has a significant impact on the political scene since U.S. government officials are expected to receive post-graduate degrees from Ivy League institutions whose curriculum and environment are representative of this issue, yet these schools still function as a training ground for those who expect to work in U.S. politics.
The lack of access to approval and prestige handicaps Black women within the broad framework of society because they still engage in social norms despite their diminutive status. The racial hierarchy established alongside the gender hierarchy in America has shaped its social norms and simultaneously made it impossible for Black women to interact with morality, cooperation, and trust the way a White male can. This is because access to the full cadre of rational resources which include time, information, approval, and prestige are reserved to chief executive decision-makers who are usually White males (and very rarely White females).
Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, Washington did not allow her societal handicap to prevent her from running, winning, and making history as the first Black woman mayor the city has known. Her decision to run for mayor was powerful as she sought mayorship in a city that is predominantly White. Strickland is trying to make history again by being the first Black woman to represent the state of Washington in its 10th Congressional district.
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In Fall 2019 Strickland was asked, What made you decide to run for mayor, and when making the decision did your identity as Black and a woman come into play?
She said, “My identity as a Black woman played a role in my decision to run because it is who I am; therefore, it plays a part in every decision I make in my professional life. When recruited, I was most compelled because I was reflective of Black History. The history of voter suppression and intimidation. I knew of the sacrifices made by others who came before myself, and I knew I was to have an opportunity to make history. The social, political, and economic environments in which we live do not welcome a Black woman, so when given the opportunity to do it you must, no matter how difficult.”
The approval of the former mayor didn’t grant her the favor previously seen in local mayoral races. Mayor Stickland had to prove her competence before gaining the necessary prestige to win re-election.
This lack of approval and misogynoir is seen at play again with Senator Kamala Harris.
Senator Harris is a junior senator who rose to national prominence in a crowded Democratic field. Despite her political ideology, Harris was a competent District Attorney and Attorney General in the state of California. Many disagree with her narration as a progressive Democrat, but her acumen and barrier-breaking career have resulted in rather hostile disapproval and the attacks on Kamala have been laden with both sexism and racism.
The space in which Black women live make gendered racism the realities of their everyday lives. They have to present themselves as highly moral, with extreme intellect, and possess the ability to supremely collaborate to be seen as viable to govern.
About the Author: Dr. Sherice Janaye Nelson is a speaker, author, professor, mother, and consultant. She is a Black Diaspora expert who focuses on the political, social, and economic effects of chattel slavery. This expertise has helped her serve her clients as a diversity consultant and founder of Dr. Janaye Executes. She is also the Executive Director of the Black Leadership Roundtable and a member of the advisory board for the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University. Dr. Nelson’s new book The Congressional Black Caucus: Fifty Years of Fighting for Equality is due out in Spring, 2021. She is currently a professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Senator Kamala Harris who is Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President. — Featured Photo Credit: MarketWatch.