I grew up with four sisters and two brothers. Academically, my sisters performed very well and entered the job market with a competitive advantage. They had attended topnotch schools, with one becoming a business executive and another becoming a postmaster for USPS. Two are in education, one teaching on the college level and the other occupying a high-school principalship. I am certain that the first two benefitted directly from affirmative action policies of the 1970s, but they earned and deserved everything they received. The society was still pervasively racist then, but their stellar professional performances were merely buttressed somewhat by affirmative action. The latter two were in a slightly different environment when they embarked on their careers: the mid-to-late nineties. Although their paths were smoother than the first two, who are sixteen years their senior, their progress toward success was not without their challenges and struggles.
What is disturbing is the fact that whereas the opportunities for women in the workforce have increased since the early 1960s, their positions, statuses, compensation, advancement, and overall roles have not become equitable on many levels. The patriarchal tradition of the United States still remains in force and the passage of legislation to offset and neutralize it has not triumphed. A very easy example is that of payment for equal work. In 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that women make 77.5 cents to every dollar a man makes. No rationalization for this exists—only excuses. What is even worse is that African American and Hispanic women comparatively make 61 cents and 52 cents, respectively. This is a travesty!
However, the picture gets even worse. For example, though Hispanic men work more than white men, they earn less than white men, white women, black men, and black women. As a matter of fact, the only ones in this demographic snapshot that make less than they are Hispanic women! Over four decades after Pres. John F. Kennedy’s executive order dealing with affirmative action, the position of persons of color in the labor force is still abysmally discriminatory. Despite the fact that women were excluded from the initial renderings of this executive decree and the subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is an undisputed fact that the highest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women!
Perhaps, the Equal Pay Act and the languishing Paycheck Fairness Act should have a special clause in them that deals with the disparity in pay for persons of color. It is clear that race plays a larger role than we are willing to admit in the job market and that the legislative efforts under the Kennedy and Pres. Lyndon Johnson administrations were not enforceable enough to make a substantive difference in the way we do business. Often, they placed the burden on those discriminated against to prove their mistreatment, rather than making the Department of Justice more proactive in penalizing employers for continuing unfair labor practices. Yes, we still live in a grossly patriarchal society, and we must persist in our endeavors to become manifestly more equitable. But we must not forget the millions of women who suffer from a double indemnity: being female and a person of color.
There is a poem by an artist who emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Douglas Johnson, who might give us some hope. It is called “Your World.”
Your world is as big as you make it.
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner,
My wings pressing close to my side.
But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the skyline encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.
I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze,
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
With rapture, with power, with ease!
Let us make this vision, our world!