Michigan Senate panel advances bill scraping third-grade reading law

Opinion: Black women deserve equal pay, too

Kyra Bolden

When someone points out the inequities still plaguing our nation, we hear the same excuses over and over again — particularly when it comes to the conversation of equal pay. We’re told there’s no wage gap, there’s never been a wage gap and that gender pay gap is a myth.  

Some try to explain it away: If a woman is paid less then it’s a woman’s fault for choosing the career she chose or choosing to work part time to spend more time with her kids.

This constant insistence — even in the face of overwhelming evidence — on negating the experiences of those in marginalized or vulnerable groups is exhausting to deal with, but especially when navigating these conversations as a black woman.

Like many other minority women in America, I learned that it was not possible to separate my racial identity from my gender, the intersection between our gender and race diffuses into every aspect of life.

One primary example of this is the disparity between when the ‘average’ white woman’s equal pay day falls and the length of time it takes for black, Latina, and indigenous women to reach their corresponding benchmarks. April 2, 2019, marked the day an average white woman finally earned what the average white, non-Hispanic man did by the end of 2018.

For black women, our equal pay day falls on Aug. 22, meaning we must wait 234 days to catch up to the pay of our white men colleagues and 142 days more than white woman. Indigenous women and Latinas are forced to wait even longer: their equal paydays fall Sept. 23 and Nov. 20, respectively. This means that by the time Latinas have earned the same pay as men made by the end of 2018, 2019 is already nearly 89% over.

In this Jan. 21, 2017 photo provided by Aileen Rizo,  Rizo, along with her daughters Diana Acosta, 10, center, and Vivan Acosta, 6, right, attend the national Women's March in Fresno, Calif.

These statistics aren’t just numbers, either. They translate into very real, tangible impacts on our lives. Eighty percent of black women are the primary breadwinners. Getting paid less than our male counterparts for the same work means greater portions of our income is spent on necessities, leaving us with less disposable income to live our lives and ultimately support our local businesses and economies.

We still must make ends meet, but with less income solely because we’re not white men. Over time, this makes it much more difficult for women, especially women of color and their families to get ahead and achieve success.

The purpose of nuancing the conversation around equal pay by gender AND race isn’t to pit women from different backgrounds against each other, but to serve as a reminder of the importance of intersectionality. A rising tide may lift all boats -- but for that to be true they have to all start out on the water.

When opportunities on the front end -- access to quality public schools that prepare you for the future, access to higher education funding that provides opportunities for post-secondary training, access to career and networking opportunities that are often unpaid but crucial to advancing in your discipline -- are not evenly distributed, it is impossible to get every woman of every color at the same starting point in the fight for equal pay.

To truly achieve equal pay for equal work, we must focus on equity. That can’t just mean righting the scales for one group of women. We all have an obligation to each other, to listen and to, when possible, use our privilege to lift up the voices of those still lacking opportunity.

Rep. Kyra Bolden, D-Southfield, represents Michigan's 35th House District.