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Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making.

Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making

Author: Nadia E. Brown

Oxford University Press, 2014

Price: $49.95

ISBN: 978-0199352432

In Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making, Nadia Brown explores the ways in which the intersectionality of race and gender colors experiences and thereby influences legislative choices and political behavior of Black women legislators. By developing and utilizing the concept of Representational Identity Theory, Brown illuminates the variations of experiences that exist among this group. She points out the nuances of differences, yet the shades of similarities, which this group shares as it relates to race and gender identity. The author also studies the policy preferences and legislative behavior that these experiences and identities reflect. The author reveals and explores such intersectionality by studying the Maryland state legislature as a case study. By hinging on the multiplicity of experiences, Brown offers new awareness about how gender and race identity permeates political representation and behavior among the Black women elected to office. Rejecting the narrow viewpoint of examining Black women through the spectrum of either "gender politics" or "racial politics," through its seven chapters, this book offers a powerful analysis of individual experiences of Black women and links it to the concepts of collective race and gender identities.

In the first chapter the author introduces the readers to a quote by Maryland State Senator, Yvonne Scott. The quote points out the unique cultural, philosophical, and historical experiences of a Black woman, especially a Black woman legislator. She cites this quote to highlight the central theoretical framework discussed in this chapter, representational identity theory. She discusses the importance of the race and gender linkages between the diversity of experiences. The author posits that this discussion of theoretical considerations is important to understanding the political behavior of Black female legislators. Brown chose the state of Maryland as her case study for her research. She attributes this choice to the fact that the state is home to a large number of Black female legislators, the racial diversity of the state, the highly organized state legislature, and the unique combination of strong partisanship and legislative autonomy. The author devotes a large portion of this chapter introducing readers to the theory of representational identity, which incorporates the diversity of experiences of Black female legislators that is part of a collective identity. Here, the author departs from the overwhelming existing literature that examines Black women as one single unified political group. This chapter calls for the need to examine the ties between descriptive and substantive representation, one in which the dynamics of a Black female representatives' social/demographic ties to the constituents and a representatives' response to the interests of the constituents are juxtaposed to her legislative decision-making process as a member of racial and gender groups and as an individual. In doing so, Brown challenges theories that represent Black political identity and behavior as a homogenous group "sentiment.

In the second chapter the author builds the linkages between the "formative" experiences of the Black female legislators and their political identity. To accomplish this, the author conducts detailed interviews in which the participants are asked to narrate about their life experiences: the past, present, and future. This is an extension of gathering data via the technique of storytelling. Brown frames her technique as a "feminist life history" interview. In this chapter, through the interview, the author studies the childhood and adulthood memories and current life experiences of the legislators. Through the responses given, the author attempts to glean how the Black female legislators' experiences have shaped their identities. Brown identifies eight factors that have shaped their identities: messages about race, experiences during segregation, direct experiences with discrimination, religious upbringing, socioeconomic background, community activism and interest in politics instilled by parents, gender roles, and current home life. The findings of the interviews in this chapter are interesting. The Black female legislators indicated that specific historical events and experiences in their lives had colored their relationship to politics and motivated their participation in social and political events. Moreover, each of the legislator's personal and career experiences is very different from each other. The variation can be attributed to how the eight factors mentioned above shaped the legislators' identities. The common thread is that these women did face numerous challenges on their path to becoming a state legislator. They all seemed to have an ambition or personal goal to run for state elected office. This ambition was driven by their quest for public service. All the participants also emphasized the importance of their race and the relationship of race to their personal and political identity. They discussed themselves in terms of being a "Black woman,' emphasizing race and not as much about their womanhood.

In the third chapter the author examines the policy positions and legislative decision-making processes of the Black female legislators. This chapter also highlights when and how Black women legislators bring their identity to reflect on their legislative decision-making. The author uses the state of Maryland's Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) to make the connection between the legislators' identities and their representation of their constituents. To this effect, substantive and descriptive representations of the legislators are studied. Even though the legislators' identities are different from one another and they use their identities very differently in legislative decision-making, their race-based and gender-based identities affect their policy stance and support. The Black female legislators support policies that benefit African American women. The formative experiences of the legislators places them in an unique position to understand the relevance of policy stances and the effects (both good and bad) that it can have on African American women. In addition to recognizing race and gender as important markers of identities, Black women state legislators also recognized class, motherhood, and geographic regions as important identities as well. The involvement of the Black female legislators in pushing forth for the MBE contracts for Black women indicates that Black women legislators value gender and race identity and are crucial for substantive representation of African American women and their interests.

In the fourth chapter Brown examines the legislators' race and gender identities' influences on domestic violence legislation. This chapter also incorporates generational influences in studying the policy choices by the Black women legislators in Maryland. The author frames this as a "generational identity." Specifically, this chapter examines this identity via the support for HB 1181, Denial or Dismissal of Domestic Violence Petitions: Expungement of Records. The Black women legislators cite their support for this legislation to illuminate the influence of the intersection of race and gender in highlighting their legislative approach toward domestic violence policy. Their legislative policymaking role is colored by the fact that Black women are more likely than White women to be victims of domestic violence. Interestingly, there is a generational difference that comes into view in this chapter. Brown finds that younger generation Black women legislators disagree on the best ways to protect the victims of domestic violence and do not view a common thread of womanhood that binds the experiences of women. Instead, they challenge the concept of womanhood that is based on oppression that is common to all women.

In the fifth chapter, Brown illustrates the influence of "essentialist" and "nonessentialist" understanding of Black political identity on the legislative decisionmaking by Black women legislators in representing their constituents. The author specifically looks at legislative decision-making as it relates to representing the marginalized group, LGBTQ community, within the realm of marriage equality legislation. The author incorporates race, gender, and generational analysis in studying their legislative decision-making. The generational divide played a strong role in legislative decision-making in this section of the study. Not surprisingly, older generation Black women legislators opposed same sex marriages and younger generation Black women legislators supported same sex marriages. It is evident here that Black women legislators' legislative decision-making is not unified when it comes to same-sex marriages. This divergence exists not only in relation to same-sex marriages but also in relation to equality in marriage.

In the sixth chapter, Brown examines the legislators' support of the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Bill. Once again, the author looks at the intersectional influence of race and gender in legislative decision-making. In examining support for the bill, this chapter also explores the aspect of caregiving and finds that the common thought pattern that caregiving is woman's work and overwhelmingly Black woman's work. The strong intersections of race and gender on caregiving, tends to make Black women legislators more passionate about the need to promote such type of legislation. The intersection established in this chapter reinforces the theoretical framework of representation identity posited by the author. The seventh chapter concludes the study. It ties the experiences, constituent representation, and legislative issues to race, gender, and, in some cases, generational identities. The author explores these identities to make some overarching observations of Black political identity and legislative voting behavior of Black women legislators.

This book forms an excellent case study of the intersectionality between race, gender, and generation. It serves as an excellent reader for those seeking to advance their scholarship in the areas of Black Politics and Women in Politics. While recognizing the divergent experiences of Black women legislators, this study also highlights some common threads of Black political identity that commonly weave themselves into their legislative decision-making tendencies. This intersectionality is a significant contribution of this book

Reviewer: Revathi I. Hines-Southern University and A&M College
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Author:Hines, Revathi I.
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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