Most children of color can sense they have to adapt to the world before the world adapts to them. My reality was no different.
At age 7 I found it odd that my mother had to search high and low for a brown-skinned doll. Instead, I had to settle for the slightly tanned, straight-haired one. At age twelve, I noticed how few Black women graced the covers of magazines, mainstream television shows, and movies.
At 16, I was sick and tired of always being one of the few Black students in my school. Black History Month was always uncomfortable. My white teachers discussing slavery made me feel awkward, and it was difficult to feel like I belonged.
When I graduated high school and started attending college, I thought this issue of underrepresentation was a thing of the past. Finally, I could feel at ease in my own skin. Since my university is the second most diverse campus in the nation, I just knew I could finally thrive comfortably.
So now I’m in college, working harder than ever before and preparing excitedly for my bright future.
I’m a journalism student studying in a major metropolitan area, where the opportunities to volunteer and find work in my field are bountiful. So bountiful, I never once considered that being a woman might hold me back. I never once thought that being a Black woman might actually make my future in journalism even more awkward and difficult than finding a brown-skinned Barbie all those years ago.
I had no idea that men have reported 65 percent of the current election cycle’s U.S. political stories. Or that in the last presidential election, 71 percent of all front-page stories were written by men, and that on cable and network TV, political news show guests and experts were 77 percent men. I didn’t know that in newspaper, radio, and TV newsrooms across the country, Black women are one of the hardest demographics to find.
Then I learned about the wage gap.
The statistic headlining articles was that women make 79 cents to every dollar a white man makes. But for the average African-American woman? It’s sixty cents. Sixty. Cents.
According to research conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), one year after graduating from college, even accounting for demographics and personal characteristics, women working full time were paid only an average of 82 percent of what their male colleagues earned.
This means among the challenges I’ll already have to deal with post-graduation–like finding a job in my field and paying off student loan debt–being paid less for equal work because I’m a black woman is one more to add to the list.
Even after working two jobs to pay for my tuition, volunteering in my community, participating in school clubs, attending campus events to promote diversity and inclusion, setting aside time for study sessions and tutoring, typing essays, creating projects, completing schoolwork, and keeping my G.P.A. above standards, all while trying to maintain relationships outside of school, I would still be graduating to a pay gap? Women in college are putting in the same amount of work that our male counterparts are, if not more. Equal pay should be a no-brainer.
As college graduation gets closer each year, I’m already thinking twice about having children, seeing as I could face the motherhood penalty (not to mention that the U.S. has no paid parental leave and child care costs the same as college tuition in some states). And since it’s estimated that we won’t reach equal pay until 2059, I’d still have to find a way to explain to my daughters that their hard work and brown skin is no match for the privileged power white men hold in this society.
The wage gap suggests that I deserve less than a man because I’m a woman, and by that same logic, I should settle for less than a man, because I’m not as valuable as one. For women of color, this suggests that we should settle even more, because our skin color inherently deprives us of what is normal treatment to receive. If only we didn’t have children. If only we were men. If only we were white men.
After I graduate from college, my hope is to be paid the same as my white male counterparts. Like a full human being, not three-fifths of one.
It’s 2016. It’s been time for women to be paid equally.