Whenever I’m asked to describe myself, the first thing I say is I am a Black person. Of the many things I am – woman, mother, introvert, etc. – I will always say I am Black first. Both of my parents were Black, so it’s the one thing I was always going to be. Despite the horrific treatment Black people have suffered, and continue to suffer, in this country, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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I recently had the pleasure and privilege of visiting the civil rights era exhibits at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). U.S. history was never one of my favorite subjects in school, but African American history was. I was equally fascinated by and in awe of the stories, artifacts, events, and individuals I saw in the museum. The murder of Emmett Till. The Montgomery bus boycotts. The Greensboro sit-ins. The Doll Test. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Lynchings. Chain gangs. “Whites Only” facilities. At times I was nearly brought to tears at the knowledge that we are not far removed from these events. I thought about my parents, who were alive during these times and participated in the March on Washington. I thought about how many times Black people have been beaten, arrested, and killed just for wanting to be treated as human beings and allowed a level playing field when it comes to education, jobs, housing, and other opportunities.
As I walked through the museum, I wondered if I would have been as courageous as those who came before me, risking arrest and violence to fight for what’s right. Am I that courageous now? I hope I never have to find out. I still fight in my own way through my work to achieve true inclusivity and equity in the workplace. I also make it a point to amplify marginalized voices, particularly those of Black women. Unfortunately, the words Malcolm X said in 1962 still ring true today: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Based on my experiences and those of many of my peers, “America” could be replaced with “the workplace” and it would still ring true.
Every time I post an article on LinkedIn about the misogynoir, microaggressions, lack of opportunities, and general lack of respect faced by Black women at work, I receive numerous reactions and comments indicating understanding, agreement, and shared experiences. The glaring pay disparity is nothing to sneeze at either. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, “Black women are paid 61 cents for every dollar made by a white, non-Hispanic male, which adds up to a loss of more than $23,000 a year or more than $900,000 over the course of a 40-year career.” At this pace, Black women will not reach pay parity until 2119.
A 2019 article from the Center for American Progress states, “Black women experience both a race and gender wage gap that reflects the intersectional reality of their daily lives. The sharpest earnings differences are between Black women and white men, who are benchmarked as the highest earners, but Black women also experience wage disparities when compared with white women and Black men.” Yet we persevere – daily. In the face of injustices of all types and sizes, we persevere. Just as those who came before us.
Every February we celebrate Black History Month, during which we are reminded to remember and honor a familiar set of well-known, well-deserving history makers. Let us not forget that not all history makers are well-known. Not all “firsts” are in the news. Not all heroes wear capes. Not all heroic gestures are grand. Showing up to work on a daily basis, performing well, and maintaining composure in the face of racism, sexism, and inequity is pretty darn heroic, if you ask me. We continue to persevere.
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