This Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, I Want To Be Paid What I’m Owed

Kyla L. Wright
·6 mins read

One of my favorite sayings is, “know your worth, then add tax to it.” As an undergraduate student at Hampton University, I said it during the on-stage question portion of a pageant I competed in and the crowd went crazy. The funny thing is, I don’t really know my worth — not in terms of respect or how I should be treated emotionally — but my literal price. I know that I’m a Black woman with two journalism degrees and a lot of experience, but I don’t know how to translate my resume into numbers behind a dollar sign.

On March 31 of this year, “Equal Pay Day” was acknowledged on social media via infographics, articles, videos, and a host of other mediums. I didn’t repost any of the above, because I’m not represented in that specific fight. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, this date represents “how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.” Again, this does not include Black women like me. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is August 13, because that’s approximately how far into the new year we would have to work to make that of a non-Hispanic white man at the end of last year. For every dollar that he’d make, said cluster of “all women” make 82 cents, while Black women make 62 cents.

When I found this out, I was shook, but I wasn’t surprised. My elders informed me I’d always have to work twice, if not three times as hard to get half of the reward, because I’m a double minority. My parents and grandparents weren’t too far off. We, as Black women, must work about 1.6 times as hard — equivalent to 19 months — to get paid the same wage as men, and it’d take 257 years to close this gap at the rate we’re going. It wouldn’t surprise me if society looks to us to close it, either.

Since the beginning of time, Black women have had to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, with ease, and without complaint. Time and time again, we’re expected to show up — at work, in relationships, in our families. 81 percent of Black mothers are the breadwinners in their families. As we’re the poster women for Alicia Keys’ Grammy Award-winning song, “Superwoman,” society fails to realize that we don’t and can’t wear S’s on our chests — especially since we’re constantly given the short end of the stick.

I often see Instagram posts followed by “#BlackGirlMagic” when reading that Black women are the most educated group in the US, and that’s amazing. But who cares if we attempt to use said education, and can barely pay off our student loans because we’re not paid enough? White women — regardless of their education level — still make more than Black women among full-time, year-round workers.

I recall my parents encouraging me to go straight from undergrad to grad school (which I did), because those with advanced degrees likely make more. As true as that may be, here’s another heart wrenching stat: the higher education obtained, the larger the gap. A Black woman, like me, with an advanced degree is set to face a 35 percent wage gap, compared to a Black woman with less than a high school diploma who’s set to face a 27 percent gap. As a recent grad who has only had internships, I don’t have much guidance on what’s a good starting salary and what’s not. Searching for my first job amid a pandemic has been far from easy, and the million-dollar question on my applications asks about salary. I’m not entirely sure what to ask for because I don’t want to appear greedy, but I also don’t want to lowball myself.

Upon graduating from Syracuse with my master’s, I planned to move to NYC and begin my journalism career. I found out I was a finalist for numerous jobs and fellowships in January, and by the time interviews were conducted, COVID-19 came with a vengeance. Jobs were no longer hiring or put on “an indefinite hold.” Now, as the job industry comes off its freeze, I wonder: “Who am I to ask for a potentially outlandish salary when company XYZ has been losing over the last five-ish months?” and “If I can’t be paid for my talents, then should they really hire me?” I’m blindly stepping into the industry with those burdens in addition to being a Black woman who likely won’t get paid what she’s worth — or anything near her counterparts. And if I needed to ask for better pay, how would I begin to properly address that with my superiors without appearing to be the “angry Black woman?” It feels almost impossible.

Attempting to have such a conversation reminds me of an episode of one of my favorite shows. On Insecure, Yvonne Orji’s character, Molly, accidentally received her white male co-worker’s paycheck, discovering he makes a lot more than she does, though he put in the same amount of time. Based on data from the Economic Policy Institute, a Black woman who’s a lawyer, like Molly in the show, makes about 78 cents on the dollar, compared to her white male counterpart. And like Molly, many Black women have knowledge of the situation, but know that there is little to nothing that can be done.

So, do we just emotionally and economically keep ourselves down? Of course not, but even if we did speak up, nothing is changed. As a whole, women ask for raises or promotions at the same rate as men, but aren’t granted them. Still, this issue is deeper than not receiving a salary increase. Over a Black woman’s entire career, she loses nearly a million dollars — $941,600 — to be exact. Getting over this hump is a task within itself, and according to social media, the topic simply needs to be less taboo.

I agree that this is a conversation that needs to be had. I’m also sick of Black women’s issues needing to be a “conversation” when some things should just be understood. It shouldn’t be a Black woman’s job to educate or fight with an employer about — not a raise or promotion — but to simply be paid equally. If we’re working the same job, with the same hours, why wouldn’t we get paid the same wage? With the combined discriminatory past both directly and systemically, I haven’t had my first job, yet, and I’m already tired. This isn’t and shouldn’t be up for debate. We shouldn’t need to have to prove that we deserve what we’ve worked for. Equal pay should be as simple as Rihanna’s lyrics: “pay me what you owe me.” And that’s just that.

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