When John and Ann started working on January 1, 2013, John has something of

an advantage. Because women earn 77 cents for every dollar John earns, it will take Ann

until April 11, 2014 to earn the same amount of money that John earned in the calendar

year of 2013. The issue of unequal pay is so pressing that President John F. Kennedy

signed the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago. While we have come a long way, baby, the pay

gap has remained stubborn. This is why President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair

Pay Restoration Act as soon as he assumed office.

This year, to commemorate National Equal Pay Day (that’s the day Ann finally

earns as much as John), the President signed an Executive Order protecting workers from

retaliation when they speak of unequal pay in the workplace (one of the ways employers

can maintain unequal pay is to make discussing pay grounds for firing). The President,

through the Secretary of Labor, is also requiring federal contractors to provide data on

pay, race, and gender to ensure that employers are fairly paid. Furthermore, the Senate is

considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which may pass the Senate, but not the House of


We know all about John and Ann, but what about Tamika? If women earn 77

percent of what men earn, what about an African American woman. Women surely have

come a long way, but some are moving far more slowly than others. How many African

American women are there in the Senate? Among Fortune 500 leaders? In other

positions of power? What about pay? African American women earn about three

quarters of what other women earn, meaning that if it takes Ann until April 11 to catch up

with John, It will take Tamika until about June 1 (or about another 6 weeks) to catch up.

Tamika earns in 18 months what Tom earns in 12 months.

Even African American women with the highest levels of education experience

these differences. White men with a postgraduate degree earns a median salary of $1666

a week African American women earn a median salary of $1000 during the same time

period. For all the talk of pay equity and paycheck fairness, the status of African

American women is largely ignored.

It wouldn’t take much for the President, or some of those feminist groups who

support paycheck fairness to throw in a line or two about African American women. Nor

would it hurt African American organizations, especially those who serve black women,

to point out this injustice. Are African Americans invisible? Don’t we count? African

American women raise the majority of our children, and shoulder many of the challenges

in the African American community. Ignoring us in a conversation about unequal pay

simply marginalizes our experiences and us.

The focus on “overall” data is yet another way of marginalizing not only African

American women, but other women and men of color as well. Reporting aggregate data

gives some notion of economic progress. Reporting data as it pertains to African

American women and men makes it clear, for example, that African Americans

experience depression-level unemployment rates.

I was delighted that President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act when he did,

and have been privileged to hear Ledbetter speak on more than one occasion. She is an

amazing woman with a talent for “breaking it down”. When she learned

that men doing the same job she did earned more money, she cried “foul” but the law said

it was “too late” for her to complain. In her inimitable way, she said that grocers did not

charge her less money because she was female, nor did doctors, or anyone else. She said

that higher-paid men didn’t have to make uncomfortable choices about which child

would get new shoes or clothes.

African American women can tell the same story as Lily Ledbetter. Indeed, the

gaps African American women are likely to be more severe than the ones Lily Ledbetter

faced. The pay gap for African Americans is larger and too many live in food deserts

where the cost of food is higher even as the quality is lower.

Lily Ledbetter deserves the limelight she earned because she brought this matter

to the President’s attention. There’s a black woman out there who can tell a similar story.

She, too, needs to be lifted up. We ought to know her name, see her name on a piece of

legislation. Ledbetter is an ordinary shero, a working class woman who stood up for her

rights. She reminds us that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “you don’t have to

be great to serve”. We need a similar sister to remind us that we don’t have to be elected,

appointed, or anointed to make a difference.

When African American women are marginalized so are our girls. They are left

with the impression that we have not fought for our rights. We’ve been fighting and

fighting, but somehow the story of a sister struggling is too unremarkable to be noted by

the media.

Race and gender continue to shape the opportunities that African American

women have, and race and gender continue to marginalize us black women. When do

African American women have equal visibility in the policy and imagery arena? When

we demand it, when we stop applauding at our own marginalization!

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© 2017 by Dr. J. Malveaux