Great news, America: Your elected representatives are about to get a lot more diverse. According to USA Today, a record 82 black nominees from the two major parties are running for congressional seats in November.
That eclipses the old record of 72, set during the 2012 elections. It's a huge leap forward for what observers suggest is an increasingly polarized era for American racial politics.
Background: Of the black candidates running, 64 are Democrats and 18 are Republicans. According to The Root, all but three — Senate hopefuls Joyce Dickerson (D-S.C.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — are vying for seats in the House of Representatives.
Forty-four black members of Congress currently serve in the House and Senate combined, and USA Today predicts their numbers will grow after November. Also among the exciting potential new additions are a number of women, including Mia Love (R-Utah), who, if elected, would become the first black female Republican ever in Congress.
If all goes as expected, these midterms will see the swearing-in of the largest number of black congressional representatives in U.S. history.
The downside: It's not all rainbows and handholding.
Clutch Magazine reports that a major factor fuelling the high number of black candidates is the deepening racial divide between white and black politicians in the South. In an enlightening New Republic article titled "The New Racism," Jason Zengerle outlines the divisive strategies Alabama Republicans have used over the past decade to oust white Democrats, ensuring that "Democrat" and "Republican" remain polite euphemisms for "black" and "white," respectively.
That said, the Democratic Party remains at the forefront of this record-level diversity. In 2012, the House Democratic Caucus became "the first congressional faction in history to be more than half women and minorities," according to USA Today.
Why it still matters: The importance of black political representation reached a discursive fever pitch in August, when Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown. Critics, journalists and activists were quick to note a key disparity in the town of 21,000: Though 64% of residents are black, its mayor and five of its six city council members are white.
The response in subsequent months has focused largely on registering more black voters in the area, but even that has met with mixed results. While early reports suggested a staggering 3,287-person uptick in the number of registered voters in Ferguson since Brown's murder, Talking Points Memo reports that number is closer to 128, with the miscalculation stemming from an "unexplained discrepancy."
The takeaway: We still have a long way to go. In a nation where institutionalized racial inequality has contributed to disparities ranging from high incarceration rates to limited health care access to high unemployment, political representation is seen as an important means to ensure oppressed voices are heard and their needs are met.
Time will tell if this midterm election actually brings about such results, still, the outlook thus far is undeniably positive.
h/t The Root