Lesson Five I'd Rather Be Black than Female
Being the first black woman elected to Congress has made me some kind of phenomenon.
There are nine other blacks in Congress； there are ten other women. I was the first to overcome both handicaps at once.
Of the two handicaps， being black is much less of a drawback than being female.
If I said that being black is a greater handicap than being a woman， probably no one would question me.
Why？ Because “we all know” there is prejudice against black people in America.
That there is prejudice against women is an idea that still strikes nearly all men – and， I am afraid， most women – as bizarre.
Prejudice against blacks was invisible to most white Americans for many years.
When blacks finally started to “mention” it， with sit-ins， boycotts， and freedom rides， Americans were incredulous.
“Who， us？” they asked in injured tones.
“We're prejudiced？” It was the start of a long， painful reeducation for white America.
It will take years for whites – including those who think of themselves as liberals – to discover and eliminate the racist attitudes they all actually have.
How much harder will it be to eliminate the prejudice against women？ I am sure it will be a longer struggle.
Part of the problem is that women in America are much more brainwashed and content with their roles as second – class citizens than blacks ever were.
Let me explain.
I have been active in politics for more than twenty years.
For all but the last six， I have done the work – all the tedious details that make the difference between victory and defeat on election day – while men reaped the rewards， which is almost invariably the lot of women in politics.
It is still women – about three million volunteers – who do most of this work in the American political world.
The best any of them can hope for is the honor of being district or county vice-chairman， a kind of separate-but-equal position with which a woman is rewarded for years of faithful envelope stuffing and card-party organizing.
I n such a job， she gets a number of free trips to state and sometimes national meetings and conventions， where her role is supposed to be to vote the way her male chairman votes.
When I tried to break out of that role in 1963 and run for the New York State Assembly seat from Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant， the resistance was bitter.
From the start of that campaign， I faced undisguised hostility because of my sex.
But it was four years later， when I ran for Congress， that the question of my sex became a major issue.
Among members of my own party， closed meetings were held to discuss ways of stopping me.
My opponent， the famous civil-rights leader James Farmer， tried to project a black， masculine image； he toured the neighborhood with sound trucks filled with young men wearing Afro haircuts， dashikis， and beards.
While the television crews ignored me， they were not aware of a very important statistic， which both I and my campaign manager， Wesley MacD. Holder， knew.
n my district there are 2.5 women for every man registered to vote. And those women are organized – in PTAs， church societies， card clubs， and other social and service groups I went to them and asked their help.
Mr. Farmer still doesn't quite know what hit him.
When a bright young woman graduate starts looking for a job， why is the first question always： “Can you type？”
A history of prejudice lies behind that question.
Why are women thought of as secretaries， not administrators？Librarians and teachers， but not doctors and lawyers？
Because they are thought of as different and inferior.
The happy homemaker and the contented darky are both stereotypes produced by prejudice.
Women have not even reached the level of tokenism that blacks are reaching.
No women sit on the Supreme Court. Only two have held Cabinet rank， and none do at present.
Only two women hold ambassadorial rank.
But women predominate in the lower-paying， menial， unrewarding， dead-end jobs， and when they do reach better positions， they are invariably paid less than a man for the same job.
If that is not prejudice， what would you call it？
A few years ago， I was talking with a political leader about a promising young woman as a candidate.
“Why invest time and effort to build the girl up？” he asked me. “You know she'll only drop out of the game to have a couple of kids just about the time we're ready to run her for mayor.”
Plenty of people have said similar things about me.
Plenty of others have advised me， every time， I tried to take another upward step， that I should go back to teaching， a woman's vocation and leave politics to the men.
I love teaching， and I am ready to go back to it as soon as I am convinced that this country no longer needs a women's contribution.
When there are no children going to bed hungry in this rich nation， I may be ready to go back to teaching.
When there is a good school for every child， I may be ready.
When we do not spend our wealth on hardware to murder people， when we no longer tolerate prejudice against minorities， and when the laws against unfair housing and unfair employment practices are enforced instead of evaded， then there may be nothing more for me to do in politics.
But until that happens – and we all know it will not be this year or next – what we need is more women in politics， because we have a very special contribution to make.
I hope that the example of my success will convince other women to get into politics – and not just to stuff envelopes， but to run for office.
It is women who can bring empathy， tolerance， insight， patience， and persistence to government – the qualities we naturally have or have had to develop because of our suppression by men.
The women of a nation mold its morals， its religion， and its politics by the lives they live.
At present，our country needs women's idealism and determination，perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.