It’s Bigger than Her (2 of 2)

A white actress claims she’s being short-changed in pay and opportunity. The world calls her brave! White movie exec claims Black films don’t sell overseas. He’s called realistic and business savvy!

Topics like these frustrate me. Because the implications are bigger than the entertainment industry. Bigger than an actress, a film, a pay dispute. Bigger than the recent controversies in an industry that since its inception has been mired in controversy. Some of the sentiments coming from our people, confirm to me that too many view the challenges we face through a milky lens of denial; a view, that is not going to do anything to change the reality most of us are living in. Which is why we keep having the same conversation on repeat. We’re stuck in a self-defeating loop.


Take the subject of pay inequity and gross inequality in Hollywood salaries. When black actresses such as Taraji P. HensenTracee Ellis RossWanda Sykes, and of course Mo’Nique take a stand on the issue and speak out; the first assumption is that something is amiss – with them. Their claims are lost in the undercurrent of character assassination and skewed assumptions. Charges of being difficult, lack of professionalism, greed, and plain old unworthiness abound. Their truthfulness and motivations are questioned. When these tactics fail, they are followed by an army of amateur sleuths ready and willing to look under every rock and dig below the green Hollywood pastures to unearth dirt to discredit these actresses.

Shut them up and shut them down.

In the end, their challenges are dismissed, and all is set right with the world. But is it really? For them or for us? The answer is no. These situations are not isolated events carried out by disgruntled shit-stirrers. They are indicative of an overall reality facing working Black women across a spectrum of careers. This is not Hollywood Divas Gone Wild. This is a hard-pill truth. To support the expansive reach of the race and gender pay gap argument, take this piece of nifty information from a 2017 report by the Economic Policy Institute. It states that:


“Black women are uniquely positioned to be subjected to both a racial pay gap and a gender pay gap. In fact, on average, black women workers are paid only 67 cents on the dollar relative to white non-Hispanic men, even after controlling for education, years of experience, and location.”


But the grim reporting does not end there. The report goes on to dispel the often asserted, always mythical idea that if only we (Black women) were not deficient in some way, we would rise to the economic level of our non-black peers. Not so, according to the report:


“Black women work more hours than white women. They have increased work hours 18.4 percent since 1979, yet the wage gap relative to white men has grown” (Wilson, Jones, Blado, Gould, 2017).


And keep this in mind, about half of working Black women are mothers and that:


“two-thirds have some post-secondary education. 29.4 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Black women are paid less than white men at every level of education” (Wilson, Jones, Blado, Gould, 2017).


When we put everything into perspective, this is not a Hollywood issue. But an overall issue of inequality. A deep, vast and consistent inequality that trends in the wrong direction. We are losing the economic battle, not winning. Can we afford to silence those willing to speak up about it? No, we cannot – no matter the industry. But we still do and in the loop we remain.


Consider whether individual choices play a big part in these disparities. You know, the sentiments we’ve heard from others time and again that claim it’s our fault for not making wiser career choices. The data says otherwise:


“In almost every occupation—both female-dominated and male-dominated—black women earn less than white men.”


It does not matter if you like any of the female entertainers I mentioned. It does not matter if you enjoy their work or not. What matters is that an inequality exists and it needs to be countered with a collective push-back. A resounding, no, we will not continue to accept this. Not in the present or in our future. We Black women deserve more, whether we scrub floors, or emote on the big screen. We deserve to be paid equitably for our efforts. As anyone else.


The loop; we did not create it, but it is long overdue that we free ourselves from it. Before it is too late.


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