Hooray! It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day! This means that, as of today, on average I, and millions of Black women just like me, will have earned the same amount of money that white men earned in 2018 alone. Let me say that again for the folks in the cheap seats…as of Thursday, August 22, 2019 (after 1 year, 7 months and 22 days) the average Black woman will have FINALLY earned the exact same salary that the average white man was paid between just Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018. Let’s celebrate!…except, let’s not.
In a moment where we are pausing to acknowledge the arrival of the first ships carrying enslaved Africans to America 400 years ago this month, the persistent disparity that maintains a foothold in our nation cannot be overstated. It is a disparity, continuously fueled by racism, that blocks access to wealth generation and traps our people in ongoing cycles of poverty. This moment fully highlights the myth of meritocracy as we reflect on a nation built on the backs of free labor and sustained by perpetual inequality.
You may be thinking, “well surely this gap is explained away by the over-representation of Black women in low-wage jobs…or their lack of higher education.” Mais non, mes chers. While these inequities are present, they do not fully account for the disparity. In fact, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) highlights that Black women with an undergraduate or graduate degree face an even greater pay gap than Black women in lower-wage jobs. This gap actually increases over the lifetime of her career. The NWLC goes on to state that “Black women working full time, year-round are typically paid only 61 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts — leading to a lifetime loss of $946,120.” Surprise (not surprised)! Furthermore, let us not forget that, while Black women are paid $.61 on the dollar, Native women are paid only $.58 and Latina women are paid only $.53, so we have still a few months yet to go before our sistren can join us in this “accomplishment”. But hey, white women who typically make $.80 on the dollar celebrated Equal Pay Day back on April 2nd, sooo…that’s something, right?
While my disappointment and frustration are apparent, my passion and excitement for the work of Beloved Community runs along a parallel track. For also, in this moment, I have the honor to work everyday to dismantle structures that drive inequity throughout our society. I have the pleasure to engage non-profit, philanthropic, school and civic leaders that are committed to using their own privilege to empower and uplift those that have been historically pushed to the margins. Most importantly, I have the responsibility to champion equitable systems, policies and practices that will create a more just society for future generations. As I reflect on the sacrifices of my own ancestors, I hold in the forefront of my mind, the obligation that I carry to create a brighter future for my descendants.
To be clear, this fight is not mine, nor that of Black women, alone. This brighter future can only be accomplished through multi-racial coalition building for economic justice. This principle is at the heart of Beloved Community’s work. Steeped in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Beloved Community is centered around the community-wide participation in creating sustainable economic equity. Again I reflect, in THIS moment, what better place for me to be…cooperatively working in my community to create a better tomorrow for my child and yours?
Written by: Lesley Brown Rawlings. Lesley is the Director of Capacity Building for Beloved Community and currently resides in Memphis, TN. She has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and is a wife and mother.