Karine Jean-Pierre is breaking the ‘marble ceiling’ at the White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jean-Pierre, who sat down for an exclusive interview with theGrio, is the first openly queer Black woman of Haitian descent to serve as White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

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Karine Jean-Pierre is humble and soft-spoken but is one of the most powerful people in Washington D.C. disseminating information from the highest office in the land as the White House’s principal deputy press secretary.

Jean-Pierre, 44, is the first openly queer Black woman of Haitian descent to serve in the role, and when taking on the job in 2021 she became only the second Black woman to lead a formal White House press briefing in U.S. history and the first in 30 years.

Karine Jean-Pierre
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on November 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

“Black women celebrate every time she takes the podium with pride,” said Melanie Campbell of Black Women’s Roundtable, given the rarity of seeing a Black woman standing in such a powerful place in the United States government.

Jean-Pierre is a proud descendent of immigrants and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who contends that despite her governmental duties as a spokesperson for the president of the United States, her first priority is being the mother to her 7-year-old daughter.

In the traditional power structure of Washington D.C., white straight men have defined the make-up of the town, however, the body politic has been moving away from what history books have long celebrated. Jean-Pierre makes up the new look of power construct in the nation’s capital. She’s well aware that her very presence in what has been considered the last elite old boys club goes against the grain of Washington. 

“I am one of those people…where statistically I am not supposed to be where I am today, statistically that’s what I was told growing up,” Jean-Pierre told theGrio during an exclusive interview.

“I am not supposed to be in the space having an office in the West Wing…going in and out every day through the White House gates and being able to to be part of this administration because of what I grew up with.”

“Representation matters and it is critical that Black Americans have a voice representing them at all levels of government. It is a proud moment to see Karine at the White House podium,” NAACP Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Aba Blankson told theGrio.

“As the country navigates the complexities of day-to-day issues affecting our lives and the escalation of an international crisis, I am confident that Karine’s decades-long experience as a communicator will continue to shine through in her ability to serve as both a voice of reason and a source of comfort for all Americans.”

Karine Jean-Pierre
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House November 04, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Campbell of Black Women’s Roundtable added, “Karine Jean-Pierre represents the Biden Administration exceptionally well. She commands the attention of the White House press corps with an inviting spirit and mutual respect. Black women celebrate every time she takes the podium with pride.”

Jean-Pierre’s fresh face is not new to political junkies or those who may have done a deep dive into politics over the last few years. In addition to being a political pundit on network and cable television, she was an educator at the Ivy League, Columbia University. She also offered needed strategies to Democrats navigating the Trump administration.  

Jean-Pierre said she often used her TV platform to “talk about what was happening around us at the time, especially the last four or five years, which were very difficult for our community, very difficult for people in this country.” She also reflected on “teaching young minds about politics and what that means in the current moment.

“Being a teacher was very important to me. Being an advocate and a voice was very important to me,” she added.

Jean-Pierre is very clear on who she is and is received and praised by many as embracing and authentic. For her, everything goes back to who she is at the core. “When you ask who I am, my parents are from Haiti. So we have an amazing history of the first Black republic…that is something that I hold very dear, very close to me.”

But she lamented, “As we’ve seen these last couple of years, being an immigrant, a Black immigrant, it can be very difficult.” 

That difficulty was evident in 2021 as the nation witnessed images of U.S. Border Patrol officers using horse reigns as whips to lash at Haitian migrants who were seeking asylum at the U.S. border in Texas. While sitting in the briefing room as reporters put the White House on defense with questions about the high-profile incident, Jean-Pierre, as a Haitian woman, worked to contain the hurt while also working from the inside of the power structure to address the wrong.

Karine Jean-Pierre
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during the daily White House briefing November 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. Raimondo answered a range of questions related to the recent passage of U.S. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Whether Jean-Pierre is at a presidential event or simply out about town, one would likely hear gasps of adoration at her presence. The words “Shero” echo through the halls as she is seen as someone who has broken a “marble ceiling,” something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coined about women rising in a male-dominated Washington, D.C.

A “Shero” to Jean-Pierre looks like the woman who raised and reared her for this moment in history.

“My mom, who was a home health care aide, did not have a high school education but loved her three kids, loves them still to death and worked six, seven days, 8 to 11 to 12 hour days – like ridiculous hours. She did that because of us. She did that because she wanted to make sure each one of us had a better life than she did,” Jean-Pierre told theGrio.

Jean-Pierre revealed that her mom was orphaned at a very young age, and while she said “you can see the pain…you can also see the love that she had for her kids and that she had for people.” 

“She has one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever seen, and a lot of the person that I am today is because of her. And so she is my first ‘shero’ that I’ve ever, ever had. And she’s the person that I look to. She’s the person that I admire the most and that I want to be like.”

Jean-Pierre brings those life experiences to her White House role, something she knows is transformative for the collective communities she represents.

One day while standing at the briefing podium with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the nation’s infrastructure, photographs of the duo were widely shared as it was a historic moment – both Jean-Pierre and Buttigieg were history-making members LBGTQ+ members of the administration. 

“I did not think about that historic moment. It didn’t dawn on me,” Jean-Pierre told theGrio.

Karine Jean-Pierre and Pete Buttigieg
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg take part in the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on November 8, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“We’re trying to get to a place where the images of a Black woman who is the vice president and the image of a Black woman who is at the podium. The image of a Black woman reporter who’s sitting in the press briefing is just normal…[and] there’s nothing to think about,” she added.

Jean-Pierre is poised to possibly be the first Black American to serve as White House press secretary if and when Jen Psaki leaves the post she has occupied since the beginning of the Biden Administration. 

Regardless of what happens, Jean-Pierre said she’s ready to pull up her sleeves for the country, but particularly the communities she proudly represents. 

“The work that we have to do and what we need to be able to deliver for the Black community and the promises that this president has made about equality and making sure that equity is at the center of everything that we do – that is why I am here,” she said, “making sure that I am able to voice and message what the president is.” 

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