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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Recognizing Race During Women’s History Month

By March 18, 2013

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March is Women's History Month. As such, a number of news stories have recently popped up discussing the gains that women have made as well as women said to have shattered the glass ceiling such as Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. As Sandberg makes the rounds promoting her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and the press continues to cover new Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer's moves in corporate America, I can't help but to question if the news media is dismissing an important part of the equation when it comes to women's progress--race.

Race, gender and class have long been intertwined in the United States and beyond. Therefore it's inaccurate to discuss women's advances in this country without discussing the experiences of women of color and poor women here. Yet, news organizations such as CNN have published pieces on the nation's highest paid women without mentioning that no black or Latina women appear on the list. In fact, only one woman of color turns up on the highest paid list, Indra Nooyi, and she happens to be a native of India. Can we really celebrate women's gains in the U.S. if we overlook how far minority women have to come before they're able to reach the heights that women like Sheryl Sandberg have?

According to the Washington Post, American women generally make just "77 cents to a man's dollar for full-time year round work." But for women of color, the gender disparity in earnings rises.  African-American women make just 68 cents for every dollar that a man makes and Latinas make just 59 cents for every dollar a man does. Given that Hispanics are one of the nation's fastest growing groups, the gender and racial inequality that Latinas experience is especially worrisome. Until the earnings gap that women of color face narrows, it's unwise to celebrate the  achievements of women such as Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer as if they're representative of all women, particularly women of color.

The word "woman" should not be synonymous with white woman in this country. This is a point abolitionist Sojourner Truth made in her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech when it appeared that either white women or black men would receive the right to vote, while the interests of black women were widely ignored. Women of color such as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua and Louise Erdrich have all made important contributions to U.S. culture and raised awareness about the impact that both racism and sexism have had on women of color. It's impossible to have a true conversation about women's progress in the United States without discussing how race, gender and class intersect.

 

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