Despite the astronomical pay of Oprah, Serena Williams, and other celebrities, African American women are still not earning as much money as men.
Monday, July 31, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. It marks the day in 2017 that black women have finally earned as much as white men earned in 2016, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In other words, black women must work 19 months to earn what white men earn in 12. Every year, we start out behind.
The gap for Latina women is even greater. Latina Women Equal Pay Day this year is not until November.
In a nation where single black women head about two-thirds of African American families, the impact of low wages on the stability and upward mobility of the whole racial community is staggering. Many determined men and women find that they have to work two or three jobs in order to support their families. The feminization of poverty is tragically real.
The Economic Policy Institute found that average pay for black women with bachelor’s degrees is $24.13 per hour, as compared to $38.63 per hour on average for white men with bachelor’s degrees.
Why is there such a disparity? There are many reasons. Some black women still gravitate toward traditionally female-dominated professions such as teaching elementary school, where salaries have been lower than those commanded by men. Some higher-paying jobs in science and engineering fields require specific training, but even within those industries, women make less than men.
I have worked in places where I knew I was being paid less than my male counterparts. Along with less money also came less respect. I once held a job at a corporation which marked workers’ prestige by the type of furniture they used. As the newest hire, I was not told this until a young white male was hired for the same job as mine, and they needed to give me the same furniture as him in order not to discriminate. I had been slighted for a year without even knowing it.
Black women also face harassment or ostracism on the job. Even Serena Williams, one of the highest paid and most accomplished athletes, has endured slurs and taunts in center courts throughout the world.
Recently, according to The Guardian, Ilie Nastase, captain of the Romanian tennis team, allegedly made a racist comment about Williams’s unborn child and was heard calling her and another woman tennis player “f****** bitches.” And John McEnroe, a white American star, said Williams, who has won 23 grand slam championships, would “be like 700” in the world rankings if she played on the men’s circuit.
When asked by The Guardian what she wants for her unborn daughter, Williams said, “If my daughter were to play in a sport, and she was able to have equal prize money, or equal pay, or equal rights, I feel like that would be a success. And if not, I would really want her to speak up for it. Any daughter of mine will have a voice.”
Starita Smith is an award-winning writer, editor and sociologist based in Irving, Texas.