It’s no secret that women are in positions of influence in 21st century America. They’re doctors, businesswomen, academics and more. Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to serve as California attorney general, exemplify the gains minority women have made in U.S. society. On the other hand, the media’s coverage of black marriage rates and women of color in sex scandals with high-profile men show how race and gender constructs make them convenient targets.
Women of color have made enormous strides in U.S. society. They’ve become politicians, lawyers and moguls, to name a few. Yet, they remain a vulnerable group in the United States, working as domestics, sex workers and in other fields that make them easy prey for powerful men. Scandals involving women of color and some of the most powerful men in the country reveal how little this dynamic has changed from the 1700s—when Thomas Jefferson sparked controversy for having a sexual relationship with a mixed-race slave
—to 2011, when news broke that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his Latina housekeeper. The country’s response to sex scandals involving women of color and high-profile white men show just how much progress the United States needs to make with regard to race and gender.
In the early 21st century, the press has reported story after story about the so-called black marriage crisis. The media’s narrative about this issue has often involved racial stereotypes
. African-American women have been portrayed as overeducated, unattractive and destined to remain single. Meanwhile their male counterparts have been described as too likely to be incarcerated, involved in interracial relationships or low-income to be catches for successful black women. The reality is more positive than the media would lead one to believe. Most black women do marry, and there are plenty of successful black men to go around. And, no, the majority of these men don’t end up marrying non-black women. Find out why the black marriage crisis isn’t as dire as the mainstream media has made it seem.
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On Aug. 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina judge to sit on the highest court in the land—the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a life journey seemed unlikely for a woman who grew up in the Bronx, the daughter of a widowed Puerto Rican mother. But Sotomayor showed promise at a young age, excelling in private school as a youth and ultimately attending the Ivy League for college. Sotomayor cites her extended family members and Puerto Rican heritage
as positive forces in her life. She sparked controversy, though, when Republicans opposed to her nomination to the Supreme Court, took issue with her for remarking in a speech that her Latin heritage helped inform her decision as a judge. Despite criticism for this remark and attempts of conservatives to brand her as a Latina with an attitude problem, Sotomayor remained calm during the Supreme Court nomination proceedings. Her rise to the high court makes her an inspiration to women of color.
During her tenure as San Francisco’s District Attorney, Kamala Harris earned a reputation for being tough on crime. This perception helped her gain the momentum necessary to become the first woman of color to serve as California attorney general in 2010. Harris is part of a slew of Indian-American politicians to rise to political prominence in the United States. Harris is unique in that she also has African-American heritage, even attending historically black college Howard University. It’s unclear where Harris’ political journey will take her after she leaves her post as attorney general, but many have compared her to President Barack Obama. Could Kamala Devi Harris be the first woman of color to run the United States? In the 21st century, anything is possible.