Women's Politics in Black and White | Letters | Chicago Reader

Women's Politics in Black and White 

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To the editors:

I just read Florence Hamlish Levinsohn's article "The Pique of Women Voters" [April 24] and, not to my surprise, the normally very thorough author fell into the quintessential stereotype of classifying "women" and "women's" issues in terms primarily exclusive to white women. How disappointing.

Lost in Levinsohn's recap of the remarkable victories of Illinois women in the March primary is the fact that several African American (and I suspect Hispanic and Asian American) women's groups played an extraordinary role in helping to ensure the success not only of Carol Moseley Braun, but of several key African American legislators who were up against the political weight of Chicago's regular Democratic machine.

Our group, the Chicago-based chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, hosted a public forum for African American women candidates the week before the election and, individually, several of our business and professional women members assisted the Braun campaign with local and national fund-raising--long before EMILY's list joined the bandwagon. Further, there were several stellar, grass-roots organizing upsets as evidenced by the victories of Senator Margaret Smith, and Representatives Monique Davis and Lovana "Lou" Jones against candidates backed by the regular Democratic organization. They, too, pulled together campaigns heavily dependent on grass-roots organizing and fund-raising and managed to beat candidates backed by other, well-organized interests.

Evidence of the broad-based, multiracial organizing effort of black, white, Hispanic, and Asian women throughout the city was evident in the preprimary rally organized by Reverend Willie Barrow and Operation PUSH the weekend before the March 17th primary. There, about 300 women, including representatives from NOW and other feminist organizations, joined together to support Carol Moseley Braun and a multiracial coalition of women candidates running for various offices. Most of the candidates who attended that rally won.

To more broadly define "women's" issues as we approach the general election in November, our organization and several other African American women's organizations will reach out to other feminist groups to make sure that "women's" issues are, in fact, defined in more universal terms and that successful women candidates do not simply vote in lockstep with some of their insensitive brethren.

As I read Levinsohn's article and others that have been written in majority publications, I clearly understand the impetus for Afrocentric and multicultural education. Unless we take the time to document our own history, I'm afraid it will seldom, if ever, be told.

Sharon Jenkins-Brown

Burnham Park

Florence Hamlish Levinsohn replies:

I want to thank you for alerting me to the existence of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Somehow the name of this apparently worthwhile organization never surfaced in the course of my research for the article on Carol Moseley Braun. Still I doubt that the group's story would have fit into my later article, which focused on new women legislative nominees--though the reelection of Lovana Jones, Margaret Smith, and Monique Davis and the nomination of Braun are certainly important.

As I went through the returns, I noted that there were no black women who won nomination to legislative seats for the first time. I called around to leaders in the black community to find out why what was occurring in the white community was not happening in the black community. The best answer I got was that the black community is still sufficiently splintered after the death of Harold Washington that no new women candidates were able to mount campaigns. The few new women candidates there were had to run in races with three and more candidates, making it very hard to win.

I debated with myself about whether to include that information in the article, but decided that it had to do with the politics of the black community and not with the rather extraordinary gains made by women in the primary. I'm sorry if I thereby created the impression that I see women's issues merely as white issues, which I certainly do not.

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