Yesterday, July 31, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Serena Williams wrote an eloquent column for Fortune, explaining just what that means:
“I’d like to acknowledge the many realities black women face every day. To recognize that women of color have to work—on average—eight months longer to earn the same as their male counterparts do in one year. To bring attention to the fact that black women earn 17% less than their white female counterparts and that black women are paid 63% of the dollar men are paid. Even black women who have earned graduate degrees get paid less at every level. This is as true in inner cities as it is in Silicon Valley.”
While Serena Williams has been treated unfairly and has “been disrespected by my male colleagues and—in the most painful times—I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court,” she wrote yesterday to focus attention on “the other 24 million black women in America.”
For black women in America, the wage gap is real and hurtful every single day. So is the casual and often unconscious racism embedded in the education, health care, political and social structures of the country.
The wage gap isn’t just about unequal access to education and opportunity, though that’s real. It isn’t just about black women being disproportionately represented in lower-paying jobs, though that’s also real. The wage gap also exists, as Williams writes, “in fields of technology, finance, entertainment, law, and medicine.”
The first step toward closing the pay equity gap is paying attention to it. That’s what Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is about. And that’s a job for all of us. As Serena Williams wrote:
“Changing the status quo will take dedicated action, legislation, employer recognition, and courage for employees to demand more. In short, it’s going to take all of us. Men, women, of all colors, races and creeds to realize this is an injustice. And an injustice to one is an injustice to all.
“The first step in making a change is recognition. We need to push this issue to the front of conversations so that employers across the U.S. can truly understand that all male and female employees must be compensated equally. Not close. Not almost the same. Equally.”
As with closing the wage gap, the first step toward ending racism is paying attention to it. That’s a job of all of us, every day. Especially for all of us white folks. We often find it easy to dismiss, ignore, or deny racism, which is not an option for black people. Recognizing, confronting, and challenging racism must become our everyday work, too.