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Fifty years laters, women still get unequal pay for equal work

Julianne Malveaux | 4/21/2014, 10:18 a.m.
When John and Ann started working on Jan. 1, 2013, John had an immediate advantage.

I was delighted when Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, and I 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 Ledbetter. Indeed, the gaps African American women are likely to be more severe than the ones 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.

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 or more compelling 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 Jr. “You don’t have to be great to serve.” We need a 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 mistaken 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 and when we stop applauding our own marginalization.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.