Race and Activism
Leaders Talk About Overcoming Racial Prejudice
By Phillip Root
Milele Coggs, Nikiya Harris and Sarah Noble confronted personal and professional struggles of an African American woman in politics at the, "Black Women in Politics", conversation hosted by the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin Union Fireside Lounge on February 21st.
The conversation centered on each woman’s experience in the political field, along with the hurdles that they where presented with in the competitive arena concerning racism and sexism.
The solution in gaining confidence according to Harris comes by being assertive as politician while also being proud as an African American woman.
“Another important thing I did for (African American) women in our community was cut my hair off,” Harris strongly articulated. “I knew that was going to be a continuous point for people, but I didn’t care because I was in a leadership role for Milwaukee county and my hair didn’t dictate that.”
Noble, a member of the Reproductive Justice Collective, an organization centered on African American contraception issues, started her career in the mid 90's through political activism and community work. Eventually leading her to becoming the campaign manager for the Milwaukee State Representative Tamara Grisby.
Harris began her political journey towards becoming County Supervisor of the 2nd District at an early age.
"I remember sitting on my daddy's and telling him that I would be the first female president of the United States," Harris recalled.
Even though she had helped her family with campaigns, 6th district Alderwoman Coggs always felt irritated by the lingering questions of taking upon her family’s political mantle until she went to Riverside high school.
"We did everything from walk-out because we didn't like the Rodney King verdict, to being angry with the principal." Coggs said. “I was taught to be heavily involved.”
Yet, all three women recognized that their journeys had a similar component, which Noble elaborated on.
"They hear about the triumphs and incredible work, but they don't know what keeps me up at night," Noble said, recounting her struggle to work beside fellow African American women. "My accomplishments were in isolation."
Noble noticed that the success she experienced was not shared by fellow black women because of what she described as self-doubt in the African American community.
"It is the most ludicrous idea that I had to live my life as an activist in this community without my own people," Noble said.
Expanding on Noble's comments, Harris offered her experience in feeling unappreciated and doubted in specific instances.
"It wasn't until I was elected that I started to see more of the racism." Harris said. "I've actually had to get a little backbone and call people back when they hung up on me and many of them where white males."
Noble explained how her solitary victories as moments of self-reflection without her cultural community being a vocal part of her career.
"I have questioned my own abilities, I have questioned my own intellect and at times I have been simply scared." Noble said. "Because I did not have the voice of somebody else who I knew that I didn't have to explain anything to."
Coggs feels that the solution lies in using what is afforded to the community for better cooperation.
“We need to utilize our resources given to us to reach each other.” Coggs said.
By using the resources, Coggs is optimistic that the future will present great opportunities through activism and political interaction in the community.
“You need tree-shakers and jelly makers to get things.” Coggs said. “In our community we need both to create change.”