The op-ed below originally appeared in OtherWords and various other publications.
Women know that our progress is often characterized by two steps forward, one step back.
For women of color, the obstacles are even greater. And so, as the Biden-Harris administration makes a groundbreaking effort to nominate more women of color to high-level positions, the backlash has been swift and vicious.
Anyone watching cable news will know this already, having seen the strident ad campaigns against an early Justice Department nominee, Vanita Gupta. Gupta is in the vanguard of what we hope will be an historic wave of women of color nominated by the new administration to positions in the executive branch and — importantly — on the federal bench, too.
Gupta is an extraordinarily qualified individual who’s come under fire. So have other extremely qualified nominees — like Deb Haaland (confirmed as Interior Secretary), Marcia Fudge (confirmed as Housing and Urban Development Secretary), and Kristen Clarke (nominated to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division).
Women like these have been in the trenches in politics and civil rights for a long time, and have no doubt had to develop thick skins. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need our vocal support — because in so many ways, we need them.
These nominations are about so much more than whether a relatively small number of highly credentialed women will ascend to elite positions.
When the American people voted in November, we chose a new Congress and administration that we believed would deliver change. That means passing legislation that actually helps everyday people, not just the rich and powerful. It also means having the right people in key positions to bring that “real people” focus to policymaking and to upholding the law.
Cabinet and other agency officials are tasked with that work, and their priorities infuse the departments they lead.
If the Justice Department under Bill Barr behaved like a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization, a Justice Department in which Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke hold positions of influence would be a very different place — with a renewed focus on civil rights that has been lacking for years.
The same is true for Haaland’s Interior Department and Fudge’s Housing and Urban Development Department, agencies that hold sway over such issues as climate change and climate justice, fair housing, and homelessness.
Similarly, women of color on our federal courts would bring lived experience and a perspective that is rare in federal courtrooms today — and sorely needed when everyday people are seeking justice.
Another reason why we need these women in these roles is simple, and has been true for trailblazing women for decades: Their success will create new opportunities for women and girls who follow them.
Think of this: President Biden has pledged to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. Such an appointment would be immensely powerful in both symbolism and substance, an inspiration and a way of opening doors for many aspiring young women.
So much is possible with more strong, brilliant women of color in these prominent positions, and there is so much to lose if their progress is stymied.
I am among a number of women, of different ages and backgrounds, who feel so strongly about this that we are founding a campaign called HerFightOurFight to support these nominees.
We believe their success will help bring about the inclusive, multiracial, and multiethnic society we want to build — and help make real the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to creating one of the most diverse governments in our history.
And we believe these women are worth fighting for, because they will fight for us.
Dr. Mary Frances Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the board of People For the American Way.