Dr. Christina Greer (115266)
Dr. Christina Greer

I’ve been thinking a lot about Black politics and Black leadership lately. With the ascendance of Representative Hakeem Jeffries as the incoming House Minority leader, a first for an African American in the history of our nation, I am curious about what gains can be made for Black people under our current system. We are not lacking Blacks in leadership positions, but we are still lacking substantive policies and economic gains for Black people across the country in cities large and small.

When Karen Bass is sworn in as the new mayor of Los Angeles, a first for an African American woman, and only the second African American in the city’s history to become mayor, the four largest cities in the United States will be led by African Americans. In New York, Eric Adams is only the second African American ever elected. In Chicago, Lori Lightfoot is only the second African American elected and the first African American woman. And Sylvester Turner is the second African American elected mayor of Houston. All four major cities have African American leaders, but will the quality of life for their Black residents significantly change under their leadership?

We know mayors are constrained by limited budgets, control by state houses, powerful governors who maintain power over utilities, transportation and large budgets, and more. However, we have never seen a moment with so many Black electeds in positions of power—and I have never been so skeptical about the actual gains possible for African Americans in this moment.

For example, in New York City alone, the mayor, public advocate, attorney general, state senate majority leader, state house majority leader, district attorneys and significant portions of the city council, state legislature and state senate are all African American. The lieutenant governor even identifies as African American, yet the wealth gap, health inequities, education opportunities and more continue to leave African Americans in the bottom rungs. Sadly, when it comes to incarceration rates, arrests and interactions with the criminal justice system, African Americans remain at the greatest levels per capita. 

I am at a loss as to how we can translate some of the descriptive representation gains into more substantive representation for African Americans in New York City and beyond. Many of the hurdles we face are institutional, structural and beyond the control of any one elected official. What I do know is we have the power to help elect leaders who will continue to grapple with these issues and fight for the rights and dignity and policies that will directly help to uplift Black communities. We cannot be shy about supporting and electing individuals who are unwavering in their understanding and support of Black communities. We must continue to stay vigilant long after election season ends.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of The Blackest Questions podcast at TheGrio.

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