The XX Factor

The Number of Women of Color in the Senate Is About to Quadruple

Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, and Catherine Cortez Masto.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, California Department of Justice, and U.S. Department of State

Three new women of color were elected to the Senate on Tuesday night. Rep. Tammy Duckworth beat Republican incumbent Mark Kirk in Illinois. Nevada’s former attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, won over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in that state’s Senate race to become the United States’ first-ever Latina senator. And in California, Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is black and Indian American, bested fellow Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the Senate seat that opened when Barbara Boxer announced her retirement.

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The number of women of color in the Senate will quadruple when these Democrats are inaugurated. And since it’s hard to absorb any kind of silver lining at this grim juncture in the American story, let’s nod to the sadness in that fact: Four women of color in the next Senate is four times as many as there are now. There is currently just one woman of color in the Senate: Mazie Hirono, a Japanese American legislator from Hawaii.

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But this is inarguably a positive and long-overdue development for the Senate, which has been mostly a bunch of white guys talking among themselves for centuries. Duckworth’s decisive 54-40 victory over Kirk, who’s represented Illinois in Congress since 2001, is a particularly triumphant statement in light of his last-ditch attempt to rile up voters’ racist sentiments against her. Duckworth has family ties that stretch back to the Revolutionary War on her white father’s side; her mother is Thai. When Duckworth referred to her family’s military service in the American Revolution during an October debate, Kirk mocked, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” So, at least one racist will leave Washington, as the KKK’s candidate of choice takes hold of the executive branch.

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