In September 2020, I wrote an article for Colorlines.com on the various forces that Black women confront. I described these forces as an invisible hand contending with Black women, even as Black women break barriers. I noted that society tends to celebrate the ascension of Black women to high-profile positions (such as the selection of former Senator Kamala Harris as the nation’s first woman and first Black woman vice president), but promotions are not without challenges. No one should ever think that career growth is the end of the story; we rise, even as we sometimes cry.
In my earlier article, I focused on the wave of progressive-minded Black women who were elected as state’s attorneys or prosecuting attorneys. I wanted these women to do well because I believed they would be more aligned with the Black community’s needs. But while a host of Black women ran for district attorney positions, many have faced harassment and death threats. Some have faced ethics probes and legal investigations. Some have stepped away from their offices, resigning rather than seeking reelection.
It’s been three years since my Colorlines.com article, and not much has changed. From Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala to former Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to Orlando Prosecutor Monique Worrell – all broke barriers, and all have experienced their fair share of hardship. For instance, someone sent a noose to Ayala’s offices. She also allegedly had dozens of cases removed from her docket by former Gov. Rick Scott.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Worrell for so-called “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.” Her allies didn’t agree, as some held a press conference on Sept. 5 and urged the governor to reinstate the duly elected leader.
Gardner resigned and left office earlier this year. Foxx decided not to seek reelection, after two terms in office. Facing a federal ethics probe, Rollins resigned. Mosby was indicted on perjury charges in 2022. Certainly, I cannot speak to the veracity of the claims against these women, and I am stunned that they were beset by a host of challenges.
It is not lost on me that leaders who attempted to disrupt the status quo are facing or have faced massive headwinds. I am also aware that those who favor abolition may not be concerned with the plight of prosecutors who can and do lock up communities of color. My concern is that over the long term, these women’s plight in public office will have a chilling effect, dissuading other Black women and people of color from seeking similar roles. I also worry about the psychological toll these experiences have on Black women and their families in general.
On the most basic level, I pray for the safety of any Black women who dare to defy the status quo.
I offer this observation even as three high-profile Black women are leading historic investigations into former President Donald Trump. I don’t expect they’ll have a road paved with roses. From New York Attorney General Letitia James who has filed a civil fraud against Trump to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan (D.C.) who is the trial judge overseeing Trump’s criminal charges pertaining to meddling with the results of the 2020 presidential election to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis who is prosecuting Trump for attempting to interfere with the 2020 elections in Georgia, these women are playing pivotal roles in the preservation of democracy. Yet, their work is not without sacrifice. All three have been the subject of racist attacks and death threats.
In addition to the heightened public scrutiny – and in the case of Fani Willis, a GOP investigation into her indictment of Trump – the weight of their work must be a heavy load to bear. Not only are they charged with doing their jobs in a highly partisan and political environment, but they are navigating the rough terrains of race and gender. This is certainly compounded by typical stressors of life.
If Black women decide to step up and stand out, they will face challenges. If we do not step forward, others will make decisions for us – and often – without consulting us. It appears to be a no-win situation. Black women are indeed blazing trails, and I hope there are spaces to catch us when we fall or when we need a sacred pause.
Jennifer R. Farmer is the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life.”