An Open Letter on the Politics of Ambition

By Glenda Glover, Ph.D., JD, CPA President, Tennessee State University | 8/7/2020, 6 a.m.
“Ambition has been the saving grace of Black people since we were dropped on the shores of America in 1619. ...
By Glenda Glover, Ph.D., JD, CPA President, Tennessee State University Courtesy photo

Black women all across this nation should be outraged by the commentary that a qualified African-American woman is “too ambitious” to be selected as the running mate for presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden. Biden allies, Chris Dodd, Co- Chair of the Biden Vice Presidential Se- lection Committee, along with major donors have essentially asserted that am- bition should bar an otherwise qualified woman from consideration for the Biden ticket. Not only should Black women be outraged, but all Americans should be equally offended.

Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, African-American women have excelled in all areas of human endeavor including corporate America, government, law, medicine, education, sports and the arts, among other fields. Yet, African-American women continue to wrestle with a nation that repeatedly questions and diminishes their worth, competence, and capacity to add distinc- tive value. And, now, even the ambition of African-American women is being weaponized to further deny opportunities for which they have trained and worked hard to just be considered. Since when did being ambitious become a negative trammel their hopes, mute their voices and dehumanize their existence. White men in power who have long mischaracterized Black women as “too ambitious” have used the term as code for angry, aggressive, and intemperate in order to render us invisible and deny us a seat at countless tables of power.

Moreover, the “too ambitious” com African-American women. I encounter thousands of young Black women from various backgrounds who arrive on col- lege campuses with passive, indifferent attitudes, which are nurtured into com- petence, ambition, and a commitment to leave their mark on the world. The nega- tive connotation Dodd and the donors apply to “ambition” is precisely what I cultivate and celebrate.

There is no place in the Democratic Party for these kinds of thoughts and attitudes, and the Democratic Party should strongly condemn these statements. The “ambition” of African-American women has served the Democratic Party well over the years and has, in fact, been de- terminative in the outcome of critical elections. Not only are Black women the most loyal voters for the Democratic Party, they are crucial to igniting Black voters across all demographics to turn out in record numbers. When Black women are engaged, they bring their families, their networks and their com- munities along with them.

Ambitious Black women from all walks of life have offered themselves for service in upcoming elections. No mat- ter which candidates you support, you cannot support the marginalization of talent and experience by framing it neg- atively and calling it “too ambitious.”

The hallmark of Black women from HBCUs is their ambition. It is their call- ing card. That is how we train them. When I see ambition in a Black woman, I know we have done our job.

Dr. Glenda Glover, President, Tennessee State University

An Open Letter on the Politics of Ambition

“Ambition has been the saving grace of Black people since we were dropped on the shores of America in 1619. The resolve for freedom birthed ambition and set the course for Black women who struggled to keep their families together, as they longed for a better life.” trait given that the American dream is predicated upon this very notion?