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Massachusetts Is Diverse — But Our Elected Officials Are Not

The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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In the 230-year history of our commonwealth, a woman of color has never represented Massachusetts in Congress. It's certainly a sad piece of trivia to close out Women's History Month.

Massachusetts has six statewide elected officials, and all are white. Of our 11-member congressional delegation, all are white and eight are men. It’s clear that Massachusetts has a proverbial, and very real, "Old Boys Network."

In our corporate leadership, African-Americans and Latinos — particularly women — are barely represented. They rarely make partners in law firms, and have been largely shut out of our most powerful executive offices and organizations. This is according to a recent Boston Globe series on race, which looked at widespread African-American, and Latino inequalities.

More troubling for women of color, is that the rank-and-file often work twice as hard for half as much. And when it comes to promotions they are often passed over for the more well-connected, white male candidate.

Of our 11-member congressional delegation, all are white and eight are men.

The proof is in the statistics. Compared to a white man in Massachusetts, black women make 61 cents on the dollar, and Latina women make just 50 cents, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

As a result, too many women of color struggle with the costs of health care, child care, finding a good school and the ever-increasing costs of housing.

Things aren’t improving for women of color, in great part, because they are not represented in positions of power. Bringing more diversity to our elected representation would allow for a greater understanding of issues like racism, gender bias, sexual assault and gun violence — and a more informed view of how to solve these issues.

This is one of the arguments Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley has made in her primary challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano for the 7th Congressional district seat.

The demographics of the district, which includes most of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Milton, Randolph and Somerville, have changed since Capuano was first sent to Washington, D.C. It’s now a majority-minority district, and women of color make up a large share of that majority.

Boston City Councillor and candidate for the 7th Congressional district Ayanna Pressley speaks at her campaign office in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Councillor and candidate for the 7th Congressional district Ayanna Pressley speaks at her campaign office in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Pressley has argued that her diverse representation would bring a fresh perspective and ability to transcend different cultures to give voice to the voiceless. She’s identified as among her key issues: addressing sexual assault, criminal justice reform, income inequality and gun violence — topics that might have remained on the shelf until recent events, including the #MeToo movement and the Parkland shooting, have pushed them out into the light.

Having people in our highest offices that have actually experienced trauma and inequality, would bring greater empathy, understanding and urgency for change.

I know from my own experience as the first Latina in Massachusetts history appointed to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010. It wasn’t easy. When I first started, I was surrounded by what I had felt to be the “old boys network” of education administration.

But I was able to bring a new perspective, detailing the challenges faced by the Puerto Rican community, and other students of color. I like to think that some of those perspectives are now included in our education policy books.

Bringing more diversity to our elected representation would allow for a greater understanding of issues...

The one government body in Boston that has experienced a rapid diversification to reflect the community it serves is the City Council. Before Pressley was elected in 2009, a woman of color had never served on the council. Now six members of the 13-member council are women of color.

The council has provided progressive and activist leadership to put Boston on the forefront of addressing issues like increasing sex education and the graduation rates of pregnant teens, to help many young students of color.

Working with Mayor Marty Walsh, the council has also strengthened English language programs to help immigrant families assimilate, and ensured that the police are here to protect immigrants and not deport them.

And the city has increased minority contracting requirements and the number of liquor licenses that go out to restaurants in neighborhoods of color. This initiative, spearheaded by Pressley, has created new opportunities for neighborhood revitalization and economic development.

It will take many election cycles to get to true parity, but after 230 years, it’s time Massachusetts had representation for women of color in Congress.

Editor's note: Vanessa Calderón Rosado has no formal relationship to Ayanna Pressley's campaign.

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Vanessa Calderón Rosado Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Vanessa Calderón­ Rosado, Ph.D. is chief executive officer of IBA -- Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción.

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