The “Obama Women”

That’s what the Washington Post has termed the black women in President Barack Obama’s inner circle.  Many of them are lawyers–Valerie Jarrett, Melody Barnes, Cassandra Butts–who we’ve introduced you to previously.  A few new ones have been added to the mix.

lisa_jackson_headshotEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has become fast friends with Washington insider, Donna Brazile, and the women in the federal government.

When Jackson, with bodyguard in tow, walks through the corridors of the EPA’s vast complex in the Federal Triangle, she invariably is stopped by one of her employees, often an African American woman, who says, “Thank you for being here.” She is reminded not only of the history Obama made but also of the history she is making. Black women make up about 192,000 of the more than 1.7 million members of the federal workforce, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The article goes on discuss further the role of African American women in past administrations.

Women earn about two-thirds of the associate and bachelor’s degrees awarded to black students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and Bureau of Labor data show that more than 2.6 million black women were employed in management and professional jobs last year. The women working for Obama have helped run Chicago city government, led nonprofit organizations, held top jobs at think tanks and influential positions on Capitol Hill.

Even so, women and minorities still lack representation in proportion to their numbers on the federal level. In Congress, only 90 members are women, 42 are African American, 28 are Latino and nine are Asian. Of late, black women have done better in Cabinet-level appointments and senior White House positions. President Bill Clinton appointed two black women to his Cabinet and several served in senior White House positions. President George W. Bush named Condoleezza Rice his national security adviser and later secretary of state, making her the highest-ranking black woman in the country’s history.

It was only 32 years ago that President Jimmy Carter appointed Patricia Roberts Harris to serve as secretary of housing and urban development, making her the first black woman in the presidential line of succession. Harris said at the time of her HUD appointment that her gender and race made her a “two for one” and called the hoopla around her nomination the result of “tragic exclusion.” In stories about her experience as the first, she described herself as lonely.


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