Unbought and Unbossed: Shirley Chisolm and the Importance of Black Women’s Political Involvement

By DaiJhah Owens

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
― Shirley Chisholm

One thing is for sure; you don’t have to tell a black woman about the importance of being politically active. We realized early on that it is not an option for us to not be. Currently, black women constitute 21 of the total 535 members of the U.S. congress, and this is no coincidence. To say we are underrepresented would be an understatement. Black women have been purposefully left out of politics, yet so many decisions about our lives are made with little to no input from us. We are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to political equity despite being the most politically conscious. Why is this? Why must we continue to fight the hardest but get so little in return from our government leaders?

Black women have never been timid when it comes to using our voices as tools for change. We recognized that if we left our fate up to government leaders, we would be left behind like so many times before. In honor of Black History Month, it’s vital that we provide context to the women who have shaped the world in which we live, especially in the political arena. Politics play such a major part in our lives that we are unable to ignore it as easily as others. From how we have access to healthcare, how our school districts are funded, the policing of our hair, politics has its hand in it all! Shirley Chisolm understood this first hand. As the first black woman elected to congress in 1968, she understood the importance of not leaving our future up to chance. Chisolm started out as a school teacher and saw the resource disparities in the majority black school district where she taught in New York. That is when she decided to run for congress and won! In 1972, she made history again by being the first black woman of a major political party to run for president.

Chisolm was not anti-government or anti-politicians. She simply understood, that to truly enact change, we must not only be at the table alongside decision-makers, but we must become decision-makers. After all, we have more at stake than anyone. I want to see more black woman tapping into the same power that gave us Shirley Chisolm. I am hopeful that in the years to come we will see record numbers of black woman elected into public offices at the local, state, and federal level. I am hopeful that under-representation will soon be a thing of the past.

DaiJhah Owens is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.

Chisolm, S. 1970. “Unbought and Unbossed” Houghton Mifflin Publishing. cawp.rutgers.edu/women-color-elective-office-2018

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