“I have been paid less than a white female colleague, in a job where I was tasked with even more work. I had to learn to advocate for myself and address the issue with my supervisors head-on. Self-advocacy has become a mechanism of survival for so many Black women in the workforce, because American companies, nonprofits, and institutions systematically undervalue our work.”‘
by Hamdi Mohamed
(This article was originally published on The Fold and has been reprinted with permission)
America. The land of opportunity, the land where dreams come true—just not for so many who look like me.
According to statistics from Equal Pay Today, 80 percent of Black women are the sole or main breadwinner in their households. And yet, they are paid only $0.61 for every $1 a white non-Hispanic man is paid.
Today, Black Women’s Pay Day, marks the point in the calendar year when Black women catch up to the average income that a white, non-Hispanic man made in the previous year.
This brings us to a simple, yet utterly painful conclusion: it takes a Black woman roughly 589 days to make what a white, non-Hispanic man can make in 365 days. And while many of the statistics focus on disparities with men, it’s also important to note that Black women are also paid significantly less than white women.
Today marks in real terms how much money black women are denied, how much racism and sexism hurts, and what we can do to end this crisis of inequality in America.
Growing up, my mother often told me about a Somali proverb: “to be without a woman is to be without life” (in original Somali: Naag laan, waa naf laan). To me, this is like saying that water is life—women give life and support to every person. Yet despite that, for women (and especially Black women) our work has historically been uncelebrated, unnoticed, undervalued, and, at times, even painted in a negative light.
In my own experience, I have been paid less than a white female colleague, in a job where I was tasked with even more work. I had to learn to advocate for myself and address the issue with my supervisors head-on. Self-advocacy has become a mechanism of survival for so many Black women in the workforce, because American companies, nonprofits, and institutions systematically undervalue our work.
I think about the many Black women in our history who fought for women’s rights, the suffrage movement, and civil rights but have been left out of narratives about what our country stands for: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary Church Terrel, and more.
It’s 2020, and Black women are still fighting for basic human rights. Racial disparities in health care continue to grow. For example, evidence shows that Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications than their white counterparts.
To be without a woman is without life. We must extend this powerful mantra to all women. For the last few years, I have been saying this proverb my mother taught me as an affirmation to build up self-belief and confidence.
What this means to me is that Black women’s lives matter. In light of the recent outpouring of protest over George Floyd’s murder, let us draw the connections between the painful math behind Black Women’s Equal Pay Day and the epidemic of police brutality because underpaying Black women heightens their risk of falling into poverty and the likelihood that they will be impacted by police violence. That means this day is also about the fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, Charleena Lyles, Natasha McKenna, Kindra Chapman, Sandra Bland, and the long list of Black women killed by police. Our struggles from the streets to the workplace are connected; we hold in common our stories of oppression. I have seen statement upon statement from major corporations affirming that Black lives matter, but until Black women are paid fairly, those words ring hollow. Black lives, Black women, and equitable pay matters.
How to Take Action on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day
1. Use Your Networks – Let everyone around you know that it’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Share information on your social media accounts about why it’s important to act on pay inequality. Use the hashtag #BlackWomenCan’tWait and #BlackWomensEqualPay.
2. Use Your Power – Call your local, state, and federal representatives and demand they support they the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is stalled in the Senate. Make sure that existing and proposed equal pay laws have considerations for equity and racial disparities. To find out who your representatives are, enter your address here.
3. Use Your Vote – Support progressive Black women running for office in local, state, and federal elections. Black women are electable and they are ready to effect change at every level. To find a list of Black women running in Washington state, go here.
4. Use Your Voice – Stand up for Black women in your workplace. If a Black woman is being silenced, undervalued, or disrespected, use your privilege and speak up. Justice begins by changing our culture.
You can watch Hamdi’s video on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day here:
Hamdi Mohamed is a social justice policy advocate and organizer.
A former refugee, she is currently Policy Advisor for the King County Executive Office of Equity and Social Justice and former Deputy District Director for Representative Pramila Jayapal. Hamdi was recognized as a 2018 Heroine by the National Women’s Caucus of Washington.
Featured image: Christina Wocintechchat