Out of 12,506 people who have ever served in Congress, just 57 have been Black women. (Happy Black History Month!) Another 49 have been non-Black women of color.
Currently, 61 women of color are serving in Congress—more than half of the 106 women of color who have ever held that role. (These numbers, from the Pew Research Center, include voting and non-voting members of Congress.) Of that 61, 29 are Black, 20 are Hispanic, and 11 are Asian American, with Rep. Marilyn Strickland, who is Black and Asian American, counted in both categories. Rep. Sharice Davids is a member of Ho-Chunk Nation and one of the first American Indian women ever elected to Congress—she and now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland were elected in 2018. Rep. Mary Peltola is the first Alaska Native elected to Congress.
This is the kind of stuff that Republicans object to kids learning in school. Just 22 states have ever elected a Black woman to Congress, but Republicans—including politicians, Fox News talking heads, and “Moms for Liberty” types—want us to believe that racism is so far in the past that it’s illegitimate to even discuss it.
Meanwhile, the first woman of color ever elected to Congress was Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, in 1964, and the first Black woman was Rep. Shirley Chisholm, elected in 1968. You don’t have to be 60 years old to have lived in a United States that had never elected a woman of color to Congress. And most states have still never elected a Black woman to Congress—only 22 have.
All of which is to say that as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is moving against an AP African American Studies class, it’s not simply an erasure of history. It’s an absolute refusal to recognize where we are right now. In fact, you could say that the reason DeSantis and other Republicans are so threatened by the idea of kids learning history is because of what they might learn about the present. It’s definitely part of an effort to prevent continuing change for the better.
The United States has come a long way, but the most cursory look at the numbers, at the laws, at the culture, shows how far we have to go. And that’s why Republicans are so determined to throw up blockades to knowledge.