The Root Interview: Carol Moseley Braun
If anyone has a notion of what it takes for black women to make it in politics, this former presidential candidate does.
It was like, ‘Oh no, you didn't.' I was stunned at the insult. Why would you pick on me like that? I didn't think I deserved that kind of reaction to being part of a meeting. I was sufficiently annoyed at the challenge that I said, ‘Well, you know, maybe I can do this.' And I threw my hat in the ring.
TR: You say you are a civil rights activist. In what ways did that shape your interest in politics? How has that affected black female political engagement since?
CMB: I was fortunate in that my late father introduced me to black women who were involved with public affairs-whether they were judges or aldermen. I remember meeting Judge Edith Sampson, who was the first black female judge in this area-he literally took me to her house, so I could meet her. I [also] met a woman by the name of Anna Langford. She was the first black woman elected to city council in Chicago and was a civil rights activist. So I come out of that tradition.
I think is important to observe is that [historically] the civil rights activism was on one track and the electoral process was on another track. They were parallel tracks that never came together. It was only after the [civil rights] movement that people who saw themselves as politicians began to be involved and engage with civil rights, and people who saw themselves as civil rights activists began to be engaged with electoral politics. They came together in the aftermath of the marches in the South. And I think I was part of that impulse.
TR: There are a lot of black men for whom the election of President Barack Obama has been very encouraging. Is there a similar trend for black women?
CMB: Well, no, for a variety of cultural reasons that include women not supporting one another. When I ran for president, a very smart woman lawyer and community activist said, 'What you don't understand, Carol, is that black women aren't feminists.' It took the breath out of me because I had never put together the relative relationship of black women to black men, whether in church politics or electoral politics. But really, women don't come together as women in politics, black or white, frankly.
That's what Hillary Clinton ran into [in 2008]. The Republicans thought that there was going to be an upsurge of feminist support, or female support, for a female candidate. And that's why they came up with Sarah Palin. They organized themselves around what they thought the Democratic ticket would look like. And exit polling showed that women as a bloc did not come out for Hillary Clinton. Women for Obama was as large as the Hillary Clinton crowd.