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Black women still penalized for race and gender

JAZELLE HUNT | 3/31/2014, 12:01 p.m.

WASHINGTON – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed race- and gender-based discrimination. Now, 50 years later, Black women still suffer under the double-whammy of race and gender.

Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of Council on Contemporary Families and director of Research and Public Education, made that point at a symposium sponsored by the CCF, a nonprofit nonpartisan family-research think tank.

“One of the things we see with African American women is that they’ve actually made bigger gains in terms of their representation in college, in educational gains, and in professional work. The pay gap is lower between Black women and Black men than between White women and White men. All of these are certain kinds of gains,” Coontz explained. “But the other side of it is that the combination of Black womanhood leads to tremendous stereotypes. So there are ways in which Black women have gained in relation to men, but there are ways in which they go through life with the combination of difficulties that are caused by race, but that play out in their gender.”

To use the subject of wages, for example, Black women earn 10 percent less than African American males, and 36 percent less than White men, according to another CCF symposium. (In general, a quarter of the gains made in the wage gap are attributable to a decline in men’s wages rather than an increase in women’s income, according to one of the papers’ authors). At the same time, African American women’s professional success is on the rise, as Coontz points out. Still, these gains are accompanied by drastic losses among African American men.

“… Black and Hispanic men earn so much less than white men that the lower gender gap for Black women and Latinas does not produce economic security,” one paper found. “Many of the gains that women have made are not as impressive as they seem at first sight. This is especially true for Black Americans, as low-income Black men in impoverished communities have not only experienced dramatic losses in real wages and job security but tremendous increases in incarceration rates.”

The CCF Civil Rights Online Symposium presents a collection of papers from researchers across the country that examines America’s progress (or lack thereof) on religion-, race- and gender-based discrimination since the Civil Rights Act.

Discrimination also manifests in a unique way for high-status African American women, said Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor of law and at the University of California and one of the symposium’s featured researchers. She points out that Black women tend to lose workplace discrimination cases because of their blended experience of gender- and race-based discrimination. (According to Williams, it is difficult to bolster and win a discrimination case involving both race and gender).

“It appears that the experience of gender bias is really quite different as a Black woman,” said Williams, whose paper for the symposium is based on her co-authored book, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. Williams identifies four overall patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career-women face. The first is dubbed “prove-it-again” bias, in which women are required to show more evidence of competence than men. Unlike the other women in Williams’ research, Black women often attributed this type bias to their race, as opposed to their gender.