Monday, February 3, 2014
The 77 Cents Pay Gap Statistic Harms Women of Color More Than it Helps
The 77 cent statistic refers to the fact that American women on average make about 77 cents to an American man's dollar. This is a widely cited statistic. It is a statistic that has been widely disseminated by the White House previous to this most recent State of the Union address. It is a statistic cited by well respected feminist organizations. It is so widely known that it suffocates any discussion of the racial pay gap.
I checked Google. I typed "pay gap" in the search bar and I could not find a single article or web page mentioning race for the first few pages. I stopped searching.
Ironically, feminist organizations uphold the 77 cent statistic all while claiming to support women's equality in the workforce, but in fact the proliferation of this statistic disproportionately harms women of color.
Men of color make less money on average than white women. This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of the pervasiveness of the gender pay gap idea. It makes it seem as if the only form of existing discrimination is based on gender. This makes the plight of men of color not only invisible, but seemingly nonexistent. Because they are men. And no men face any discrimination.
In truth, the primary factor in pay inequality is race. When analyzing which groups receive the greatest amount of pay a racial hierarchy becomes apparent. Women make less money than the men of their own racial group showing that race is the salient factor in determining pay inequality.
This determines that gender and race are compounded to make the workforce particularly onerous for women of color.
I recently read a think piece stating that marriage is economically profitable for women due to the gender pay gap. This article was both heteronormative and white-normative. Certainly, if you are a heterosexual white woman then this is a plausible argument. However, heterosexual Black women do not see significant changes in their standard of living due to marriage. This is due to the racial pay gap which severely impacts Black men and by consequence Black families.
This means that the issues Black men face in the workforce should be feminist issues. In a patriarchal society, many women are forced to be dependent on the earnings of men. This is due to inadequate maternity leave and childcare options. As well as women being pushed into and discouraged to pursue high paying work. When Black men are unable to compete in the workforce due to racial discrimination that impacts Black people as a whole.
Black women do not have the privilege of separating our issues from the issues facing Black men. When mainstream feminist organizations do this they are not recognizing the unique issues facing communities of color. Although white feminists have historically colluded with white men and often at the expense of people of color, they do not have to do this in order to make social progress. This is because white men are the dominant group in society.
I do not have the time or patience for the 77 cent statistic. Watching President Obama conjured up thoughts of what it must have been like for nineteenth century Black women to hear Frederick Douglass's speech at Seneca Falls. Douglass essentially advocated for the rights of middle class white women to vote even if that wasn't explicitly stated. But by working in partnership with well known racist white feminist figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton he was acknowledging that it was an issue of Black men's suffrage and white women's suffrage. Black women were not in the picture.
Now today in the twenty-first century we have a Black male president who is very outwardly supportive of women's rights. But what women is he supporting through his rhetoric? And furthermore, is he even supporting Black men?
I cannot be comforted by any mention of pay inequality if it is decidedly only about white women. Although white women and women of color alike face gender inequality, the differences in race change our experiences. Women of color face intensified issues of gender inequality since we lack the protection of whiteness. And of course, race is also compounded with issues of socioeconomic class.
I challenge our political leaders to not forget the unique challenges facing people of color. We are not moving forward if we do not broaden our analysis of pay inequality, an issue that is cornerstone to everyone's livelihood.