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Fani Willis’ Testimony Evokes Long-Standing Frustrations for Black Women Leaders

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is used to prosecuting high-profile, challenging cases. But as she parried questions about her own personal conduct from the witness stand against the legal teams for defendants her office has accused of election interference, many Black women recognized a dispiriting scene.

“It absolutely feels familiar. There is no secret that the common sentiment among Black women in positions of power (is that they) must over-perform to be seen as equals to their counterparts,” said Jessica T. Ornsby, a family litigation attorney in the Washington, D.C., area.

“Here, Ms. Willis is being scrutinized for things that are not directly related to her job performance, in ways we see other Black women regularly picked apart,” Ornsby said.

Willis testified during an extraordinary hearing that could result in her office being removed from the state’s election interference case against former President Donald Trump. She was questioned Thursday about her relationship with the attorney leading her office’s prosecution, Nathan Wade.


In interviews with The Associated Press, many Black women leaders expressed frustration and disappointment that public attention had turned from the merits of the criminal case to the personal conduct of the Black woman overseeing the prosecution. For them, the court challenge to Willis echoes familiar experiences of tests of their authority, competence and character.

“I love that she stood up for herself, but I hate the fact that she had to,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. She said that when she saw video of the testimony she felt: “Why are you all treating her like SHE’S on trial?”

“Black women feel like we’re under attack. And that’s a fact,” Campbell said.


For many Black women, the inquiries into Willis’ romantic and financial life were rife with tropes and accusations often unfairly levied at Black women.


“Donald Trump knows that he can make an easy target for his base out of a Black woman,” said Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a racial equality activist and podcast host. {snip}

The testimony from Willis also reminded many of similar public questioning of Black women’s leadership, including the recent ouster of former Harvard University President Claudine Gay and the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Images from the court proceedings also reflect many of our day-to-day experiences: defending ourselves against a sea of individuals who do not share our background and harbor biases both implicit and explicit,” Ornsby said.