If you’re a Black woman in America, you have probably experienced a salary negotiation that silenced you. You have probably been looked over for a job you were more than qualified for. You have probably felt a lump in your throat when attempting to ask (or demand) to be paid more.
Today, the nation is acknowledging that as Black women we are undercompensated at work, ignored by decision-makers, looked over in the hiring process entirely or made to run circles around our co-workers just so we can stay in the game.
But the Black women’s equal pay narrative hardly ever focuses on the hidden damages that don’t necessarily show up in our bank accounts.
Getting paid 61 cents for every white, male dollar is a matter that touches on racism, sexism and the glass ceiling that keeps us from being represented in the boardroom and considered for positions of power. But along with a slew of economic consequences is the issue of how it affects our mental and physical health.
The Crisis Text Line collected demographic information about the people who used their free crisis text service.
According to their 2018 data, the most common reason Black women claim to be in crisis is due to financial stress. Whether it’s post-graduate job security, the pressure of growing debt or figuring out how to make one paycheck last two weeks - the lack of financial security is impactful enough to feel life-threatening.
Being paid less can also play a role in situations where Black women feel forced to stay in harmful relationships.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 Black women are at the highest risk of intimate partner abuse - more than any other race. Leaving a violent partner entails a lot more than just money, but it is often the lynchpin in one’s ability to get out of a situation where they are being harmed.
Even if one’s partner is not physically or sexually abusing her, the freedom of autonomy and independence suddenly becomes lost when you’re constantly overlooked for opportunities of advancement at work. Feeling choiceless at work trickles down into the choices we have at home too.
To understand why this issue enrages us, they have to understand who we are. We are very often the ones who hold up entire family structures.
The Center For American Progress reported in 2017 that 64% of married Black women with children under the age of 18 are the breadwinners of their family. These women may not feel empowered to play hardball in negotiating their salary or walking away from an employer who waters down what they deserve.
This doesn’t even account for the Black women who are raising kids alone. According to US Census data, one-third of all Black children in the U.S. live with a single mother. Let’s not forget that those Black women who are raising their children alone are more likely to be experiencing postpartum depression or recovering from a traumatic birth experience thanks to the ongoing Black Maternal Health crisis.
In cases of arrest and extended incarceration - the family left behind takes on the burden of paying court fees, attorney fees, restitution, and bail/bond and 80% of those family members are women. Not to mention the additional costs associated with the commissary, phone calls, and visits.
Black families are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration, and still have to get up and go to work each day.
It seems that, without invitation, the world has rested its weight on our shoulders. We’re expected to make money, support and raise our families, educate ourselves into life-long debt and survive the incredible likelihood of experiencing abuse and neglect.
We’re meant to do so silently, politely and with very few resources. So when we talk about pay equality for Black women we need to do so correctly. This is not simply a money issue - this is also a life threatening health crisis.
Photo: Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images