Last month, like every black woman — with the means and opportunity to invest in a movie night — I ran, not walked, to the opening of Black Panther. All the reviews are correct; it was a perfect, glorious display of African Diasporic excellence — both what is and what could have been. The latter sentiment left me wistful, and more than a little angry for all that my ancestors endured, all that my community endures, and all that our children are likely to endure for some time to come. Thus, when I arrived in Atlanta, GA last Thursday for the #WearePowerRising Summit — a national policy development, civic engagement, and economic empowerment convening of nearly 1000 African American women, I was ready raise a little hell. What I got instead was the healing my soul needed in times such as these. I found myself in a real-life Wakanda.
At every turn, I met a “Nakia,” a “Shuri,” a “T’Challa,” an “Okoye, and together we were the “Dora Milaje” targeting the micro- and macro-aggressions and intersections of sexism, racism, classism, and xenophobia in all it’s manifestations. We were creating a Black Women’s Agenda, but given the gravitas, depth and breadth of the women in the room and the continuing rise in the political and economic power of Black Women — rather, the belated recognition of that power — it was clear that we were also creating an American agenda.
For my part, my humble charge is employment equality for women. I sought to return from Wakanda, GA with insights into addressing the workplace challenges faced by all women. As we sit on the cusp of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, #Igot5onit, Star Jones — five takeaways for a nation of woke women.
1. Women don’t simply want to survive; they want to thrive. I was surprised when I — a policy advocate — was asked to moderate a Power Rising panel on pursuing your passion, asking for and achieving the career and life you want, but that was born out of my own shortsightedness about how policy translates in the lives of real women. From #metoo to #equalpay, women are re-casting the narrative around antidiscrimination measures to center economic security. And for good reason. Women who are sexually harassed and discriminated against are far more likely to change jobs, even when it is not professionally advantageous to do so. Harassment also exacerbates “voluntary” occupational segregation as some women will seek to avoid careers — even those that are higher paying — if they believe those careers or positions would expose them to a hostile work environment. Similarly, while we celebrate the fact that women, in particular women of color are entrepreneurial, a driving factor behind those trends are often hostile work environments that drive them from the traditional workplace, only to find that the same barriers to equality limit their access to capital — whether from banks or venture capitalists. So, yes, women need equal pay, fair hiring and recruitment practices, equal treatment, paid family and medical leave, a living wage, and access to capital. But these are not abstract policy proposals. They are vital tools to ensuring women can achieve the American Dream for themselves and their families.
2. There is indeed a special place in hell … Recent years have taught many lessons, but the most important was: Women must work together. I am fortunate to work in a supportive environment for women and those who love us. My organization, Equal Pay Today helps coordinate the observances for equal pay day, including the separate equal pay days for women of color — AAPI Women, Black Women, Native American Women, and Latinas. Each year, the observances get bigger and bigger with each group of women, including White Women, lifting the experiences and needs of women of other races. And we are not alone, from the Women’s March, to #TimesUp & #MeToo, to the United State of Women, to Black Women’s Roundtable, to Power Rising, women are coming together speaking not so much with one voice, as for one mission: Equality for women — at work, at home, on the street, everywhere.
3. It’s #TimesUp on everything. One thing was clear at Power Rising, women are wide awake, seeing the connections in everything, and demanding an end to all threats — internal and external — to our collective equality and advancement. In this movement, there is no room for the racial justice advocate who sexually harasses his employees (and there is no room for defending him either), the so-called feminist who trades in tropes and lies about angry, aggressive, threatening black women colleagues, the 3rd generation American who would deny the American Dream to those in their 1st generation, the cis sister who would dismiss the job application of her trans sister, the well-heeled donor who gives charity to all but those in her employ, the beneficiary of Title VII who doesn’t adhere to the rules of the ADA. Women need, we demand an intersectional agenda that recognizes the law of the Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Our agenda must advance the basic principles of fairness and apply them to all people because we are all people.
4. Remember the Gentleman. Even as we hold our male counterparts accountable for their role in dismantling patriarchy, it is important to remember that we are mothers, daughters, sisters and often partners of men. What would it benefit us to inherit workplace equality for ourselves but not for our sons, fathers, brothers and partners. When black women prioritize equal pay as a critical policy goal — as we did at Power Rising — we don’t simply mean gender pay equity, or even pay equity for women of color, we mean pay equity for all, including men of color, who also experience a wage gap. As with the paid leave movements, the movement to ban the use of prior salary and enhance pay transparency, for example, benefits not only women who have experienced sex-based pay discrimination, but also every person who is seeking to advance themselves, especially in this post this economic recession era. For those of us fighting of the frontlines of women’s economic security, we must take a wholistic approach that centers women but engages those who share our struggle and can be allies in our solutions. We can’t leave them behind.
5. We are American Superheroes. Despite receiving the right to vote less than 100 years ago,only receiving workplace protections in 1963, being harassed, mansplained to, disbelieved, underpaid, dismissed and disrespected, American women are leading. We are running for office, leading industry, building corporations, launching movements, regenerating economies, and uplifiting communities with a multi-generational family on our hip. We and the children we raise are America’s future, its salvation, reclaiming both our time and our nation from the golden-wigged insanity that has grabbed it in the (well, you know).