Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making
As Sisters in the Statehouse shows, it is not enough to disaggregate “women” from “Blacks.” While scholars have long advanced the notion that African American women as a group exhibit specificities informed by the intersection of race and gender that provide them with a unique worldview, it is necessary to further explore differences among Black women. This book addresses this gap by utilizing humanistic inquiry to examine the connection between descriptive and substantive representation in the case of Black women legislators. This link hinges on how such legislators see the effects of their own race-gender identity on their legislative work. By combining humanistic and social science techniques, including feminist life histories, elite interviews, and participant observation in conjunction with legislative case studies and bill sponsorship data, Nadia E. Brown presents a fuller description of how identity informs Black women state legislators’ descriptive and substantive representation. Linking personal narratives to political behavior, Brown elicits the feminist life histories of African American women legislators to understand how their experiences with racism and sexism have influenced their legislative decision-making and policy preferences. Sisters in the Statehouse is a groundbreaking inquiry into how an intersectional approach can enhance our understanding of political representation.
Sisters in the Statehouse is the direct byproduct of my intellectual curiosity and personal experiences a civically engaged Black woman. I graduated from Howard University where I studied political science, specifically Black politics. At the time, Black politics was seemingly synonymous with Black men’s politics. I earned my PhD from Rutgers University also in political science where I studied women and politics. My academic exposure at Rutgers was mainly centered on White (middle-class) women’s experiences, politics, and challenges. Overall, my educational experiences highlighted race or gender and effectively excluded Black women. I sought to produce scholarship that reflected the unique experiences of Black women in American politics as way to pay homage to the dynamic women who shaped my personal politics. Furthermore, I wanted to fully showcase the voices of Black women political elites in my research. Sisters in the Statehouse reveals how Black women legislators’ interests shape policy debates on issues that disproportionately affect African American women, giving voice to an underrepresented group.
I learned a lot about the subject matter and myself during the process of writing this book. The research and writing process reinforced the audacious and life-affirming politics of the Black women in the Maryland state legislature. I am in awe of these women’s strength, intellectual fortitude, political astuteness, and willingness to challenge normative assumptions about Black women’s politics. While theses women do things in different ways and have varying political ideologies, they are all forces of good for their communities.
Listening to these women’s narratives pushed me to think beyond the traditional binaries presented in Western/Global North societies. I learned to view Black women’s policy preferences and social identities in ways that allow for the multiplicities of differences and similarities among this population. As such, new research questions emerged that complicated traditional scholarship on Black women’s political behavior. My next project incorporates this lesson to ask how Black women’s bodies (typified by hair style/texture, body type, and skin color) impact the legislative outcomes, relationships with constituents and colleagues, and political experiences of Black women candidates and lawmakers. Here, I am interested in specifically examining the embodiment of race/gendered bodies. This project does not take race and gender as merely socially constructed identities that are mapped on to bodies but instead investigates how these markers take meaning in a “post-racial” society.
Lastly, through working on this project I learned to listen to myself. I became more confident in my own scholarly voice and my contributions to the discipline of political science. The ability to write this book helped me to see the need for this type of scholarship and the importance of having Black feminist researchers in political science.
Nadia E. Brown Biography is Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue.edu
Professor Brown received her PhD in Political Science in 2010 from Rutgers University, with major fields in Women and Politics and American Politics. She also holds a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Dr. Brown’s research interests lie broadly in identity politics, legislative studies, and Black women’s studies. While trained as a political scientist, her scholarship on intersectionality seeks to push beyond disciplinary constraints to think more holistically about the politics of identity. Professor Brown came to Purdue in 2013 after initially teaching at St. Louis University.
Brown’s Sisters in the Statehouse: Black women and Legislative Decision Making (Oxford University press, 2014) has been awarded the National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ 2015 W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Book Award. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and book reviews that focus on identity politics in general and Black women’s politics more specifically. Her current research projects address the politics of appearance for Black women candidates and lawmakers. Working with Professor Sarah Gershon (Georgia State University), she is currently coediting a volume entitled Distinct Identities (under contract with Routledge Press) on the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender in American Politics.
Dr. Nadia E. Brown is the recipient of the Midwest Women’s Caucus for Political Science Early Career Award (2013-2014). Her research has been funded by grants from the American Political Science Association, the Butler Center for Leadership and Excellence, and the C-SPAN Educational Foundation. Dr. Brown held the Jackie McLean Dissertation Fellowship at the University of Hartford (2009-2010). She has been awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane University for the Spring of 2016.
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