Invisibility of African American Women -Sunaina Kaul

“They want our rhythm but they don’t want our blues” (Dozier). A very common dilemma if we explore black presence in everyday American life. This reflects the constant challenge of racial discrimination against the minority blacks in a white dominant society. To further my understanding about this crucial topic, I attended the Black Present and Presence Program hosted by the Humanities Center of the University of San Diego where V Dozier, Assistant Professor, Copley Library and Khalia Li, Program Supervisor, Soles and Student Affairs gave us an insight about this topic through different lens, allowing us to view this issue from first hand experience. While every Black American faces discrimination and is marginalised, this phenomenon gets further magnified when it comes to Black women for the reason that they are women and they are black, a phenomenon coined as “double jeapardy.” Through my blog, an attempt is going to be made to discuss this idea of how Black women’s labor is uncompensated and unrecognized while also discussing that in dealing with this idea of “double jeopardy”, black women find community in one another. 

 

Dozier focused on the topic of creating community in digital spaces where she emphasized the idea of how African Americans have been erased in digital/social media spaces. She started this conversation by showing the audience a picture of different people who all had unique physical characteristics and asked the audience to determine who the default is. She linked this to the idea of how everyone else apart from the white man has a qualifier- white woman, black woman, black male. When referring to herself, she mentioned that she’s not only American, she is African American. In addition, it was brought to light that different cultural symbols and practices such as the dap or nameplate necklaces or long acrylic nails that are perceived to be American, actually date back to many years ago and are part of African American culture. However, if a black person is seen doing these gestures or wearing these necklaces, they are ridiculed, not appreciated and are looked down upon which can be highlighted in the quote- “what black people embody emerges as acceptable only if non blacks embody it”(Prof Miller). This highlights the issue of recognition of the experience of “otherness” and is a constant reminder to this minority community that they are second class citizens. A video in which Nikotris Perkins speaks about the importance of community highlights how “black women are diverse and complex ecological systems.” She refers to how women thrive as they create this sense of community wherever they go while black men struggle to find jobs. However, the sad reality is that while black women on one side are putting in efforts to get equally educated and qualified in an attempt to assert their identity, their work is often not given due credit.

 

“Wow, this piece is heavily dependent on my book with no citation to it. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened”, tweeted author Tera Hunter. This can be linked to the above mentioned idea of how Black women’s labor is unrecognized. While this is infuriating for the entire black community, according to me, it can also be demotivating! Another example to support this statement is that of Jeniffer Bucks, an American author who published a book called “Bad and Boujee” which revolved around trapped feminist theology. What is interesting is that the author clearly states that she is not part of this community and has not lived the experience of a “trapped queen” but has still published this book! While reactions to this are obvious, what enraged the black community was that no credit was given to them in addition to not being able to comprehend as to how this book was given permission to be published, indicating that no one really understands the root problem! Despite having to work twice as hard as the whites to achieve the same outcomes, known as black tax in Chapter 17 of Freedom on My Mind, constant efforts are made by the black community to assert their identity. While subconsciously, there could be fantasies to be mainstream and to end this concept of “the other” and “that’s me and you”, the black community, especially women, value building communities with one another because their experiences are shaped by race and gender.

 

Both the examples above are an example of how communities/platforms like Black Twitter are used to amplify the voices of the unheard and make the wrong end. By tweeting for example, Tera Hunter was made aware of the fact that her work was being used without providing any credit while Jeniffer Bucks book was pulled down which shows the strength of the black woman’s community. Chapter 16 of Freedom on My Mind mentions Female welfare rights advocates were different from civil rights and black power advocates in that they identified their issues not just as black issues but as class and women’s issues. They understood that their race, class, and gender intersected and reinforced one another. They were poor not just because they were female or because they were black but because they were both female and black (double jeopardy). For black women, their race intersected with their gender and class to determine the treatment meted out to them. It further states that In this country, if you’re any one of those things — poor, black, fat, female, middle-aged, on welfare — you count less as a human being. If you’re all those things, you don’t count at all” (White, 969). The paradox in this is- a country that ends the national anthem with the lines “land of the free…” is the country in which African Americans are facing endless encounters of racial, sexual discriminations to name a few. 

 

To feel less excluded, black feminist groups were established in late 1960s and early ’70s. The National Black Feminist Organization, the National Alliance of Black Feminists, the Combahee River Collective, and Black Women Organized for Action all emerged in response to the black freedom movement (White, 970). Apart from this, as a means to come together and form this sense of community as a means of empowerment, the black church was formed. While the black church had initially started with the intention to prioritize social justice issues, closer to the 2000s, it shifted its focus to this idea of “individualistic theology of self empowerment” and “individual internal reflection.”

 

Coming back to this idea of Black women’s labor being uncompensated, the Institute For Women’s Policy Research published an article which caught my attention. A survey conducted revealed that the majority of black women do not have secure jobs that pay them well, resulting in their inability to save, be healthy and run their homes. Statistics show that on an average, black women earn only 61.8 cents for every dollar earned by white men in a full year’s work (Institute). Statistics also show that since the earnings gap reduced this year as compared to last, at this rate, it would take approximately 110 more years for black women to come at par with the white men’s earnings! It is disappointing to see the significant difference when it comes to white men and black women which further put emphasis on the point that black women need to live their lives with this constant thought of being “much lesser” as compared to white men. What is important to note is that if the economy is working for Black women, then the economy is working for everyone. Because Black women make up the majority of the Black labor force, they are the pulse of the U.S. economy. By ignoring them, economists and policymakers run the risk of propagating lasting economic ramifications (Opoku-Agyeman).

 

In conclusion, it is evident throughout that the reason black women formed communities within themselves is due to the continuous discrimination they face on a daily basis. Statistics show that the impact of being an ‘Only’ is a phenomenon affecting 20 percent of all women and twice that for women of color where they feel uniquely alone, plus having the scrutiny for representing a whole group,” “People who describe themselves as being an ‘Only’ also say they feel more microaggressions in the workplace and more times that their decisions are being questioned”(Hunter-Gadsden). I personally feel it is high time that we as a community spread awareness about this issue and make more and more people aware that discrimination not only affects the minority community involved but imapacts the entire world. While we cannot get into the shoes of the African American community, I cannot even imagine the amount of pressure they take upon themselves on a daily basis to prove themselves as a means to assert their individual identity, in a community that should have been welcoming in the first place. I am very thankful to have got this opportunity to learn more about this community and my respect for them only increases with each new lesson I learn.

 

Works Cited:

 

Opoku-Agyeman, A. G. (n.d.). ‘black women best’: Why putting black women first may save us from economic disaster. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.epi.org/blog/black-women-best-why-putting-black-women-first-may-save-us-from-economic-disaster/

 

Cohen, P. (2021, March 18). Black women were half as likely to be hired for state or local jobs than white men, a report says. The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/business/black-women-hiring-discrimination.html

 

Hunter-Gadsden, L. (2018, November 12). Report: Black women less likely to be promoted, supported by their managers. PBS. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/report-black-women-less-likely-to-be-promoted-supported-by-their-managers

 

Institute for Women’s Policy Research. BLACK WOMEN TO REACH EQUAL PAY WITH WHITE MEN IN 2130. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2020, https://www-jstor-org.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/stable/resrep27244?seq=1

White, D. (n.d.). Freedom on My Mind. BibliU. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://bibliu.com/app/#/view/books/9781319265670/epub/OEBPS/xhtml/whi_9781319210151_ch16_03.html#page_966

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