Each year in early spring, PSA’s, fanfare, and social media graphics inform us March 24 marks the end of the 15-month timeframe it took for women’s pay to catch up to men. This awareness campaign has been highly successful at helping folks discuss the gender pay gap.
But what’s rarely communicated is that the 82 cents figure for women is an “average” that’s well above what most women of colour receive. And in a world where “average” is too often a point of reference that prioritizes whiteness, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day offers an opportunity to explore why a racial breakdown is necessary.
Creating a world where all can thrive means acknowledging how dual marginalization, the wealth gap, the cost and access of education, and occupational segregation have cost Black women tens of thousands of dollars each year.
Why is it necessary to capitalize the BLACK when discussing women’s Equal pay?
We’re unprepared to have impactful conversations about Black identity and pay because of the multigenerational failure to acknowledge how the legacy of racism impacts the present. Black exclusion from money conversations isn’t an oversight. It’s an intentional consequence of systemic violence in labor, hiring, and wage discrimination, impacting Black households’ wealth and earning potential for centuries.
We must also consider how failure to acknowledge this history normalizes Black suffering and suggests that Black poverty is a choice.
Unequal pay is much bigger than Black households being able to accumulate wealth and afford future expenses. That is true across multiple fronts for Black women, who are either sole or equal contributors to their household income. It’s about the stress of being able to afford today’s expenses when you’re already facing the cumulative overwhelm of racial disparities in every area of life. It’s not hyperbolic to say that for Black women, unequal pay is a health concern.
63 cents, huh?
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is one of several “Equal Pay Days” founded by The Equal Pay Today Campaign, which describes itself as “an innovative collaboration of national and state-based legal advocacy, worker justice organizations, and social justice organizations, that fight to close the gender wage gap that persists in nearly every industry and profession across the country, through strategies involving policy reform, litigation, and education and outreach.” The Equal Pay Today campaign was launched on the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which protected against wage discrimination based on sex. Though a nice gesture, the pervasive culture of workplace discrimination on sex - nor race or orientation - shifted that quickly. Fifty-eight years later, we’re fighting the same war, with a few extra battles to consider.
Whereas the women’s “average” reports it takes 15 months to earn a white man’s dollar, at 63 cents, Black women require nearly five extra months of labor to catch up.
Black women’s Equal Pay Day illuminates the importance of applying an intersectional lens to discussing income and finances. Black women – and other women of colour – have been historically overlooked in conversations of race and gender because, unlike men of colour or white women, they experience both simultaneously.
Equal Pay Days
There are several comparable ‘Equal Pay Days’:
AAPI Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021 (March 9)
Equal Pay Day 2021 (March 24)
Moms Equal Pay Day 2021 (May 5)
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021 (August 3)
Native Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021 (September 8)
Latina Equal Pay Day 2021 (October 21)
Unfortunately, most women of colour would need to experience a significant pay jump to reach 80 cents. Native and Latina women make 60 and 55 cents, respectively. And while on paper Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) are doing better at 85 cents/per dollar further exploration reminds that this broad descriptor is a category holding a diverse set of ethnic identities. Taiwanese women might make roughly $1.21, but Burmese women make .52 cents, and there’s a host of figures in between. (One’s left wondering if Latina, Black, and Native were broken into ethnic categories as opposed to general racial classification would the reveal it same.)
Humans are complex - let’s leave space to understand the variations
Often, predicting one’s vulnerability to wage discrimination is not as simple as looking at their race. For this reason, Mom’s Equal Pay Day is May 5, LGBTQIA Equal Pay Awareness occurs in June, and women with disabilities are highlighted in October.
When we try to neatly compartmentalize humans into boxes, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t always fit. Many of us embody a complex mixture of identities, and there will be folks – for example, a Black disabled mother or a queer Latina – who experience compounded disruptions in pay across multiple areas of identity. We must use these resources as a guide instead of a script to aid us in understanding how identity impacts experience.
The Equal Pay Today Campaign offers many Pay Inequality Resources exploring how identities impact income. The more we know about differences in financial disparities, the better prepared we are to advocate for ourselves as we work to change the system. Addressing gender-based wage discrimination is a matter of global concern. Women and gender minorities contribute as much - if not more - to our communities and the employment sector. We deserve to be paid what we’re worth.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Wage Gap, why it happens, and what you can do, the National Women’s Law Center has a handy fact sheet providing crucial information.
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is an award-winning writer, speaker and activist working to amplify Black women's voices in the mainstream dialogue, especially within conversations on health and parenting. She is also the founder of the #FreeBlackmotherhood movement.