Diversity in Feminism: Not Just Black and White

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As Pres’ demographics shift into a minority-majority school, it is important to recognize the different hurdles we all face as we step out of the bubble of Pres.

We support each other not only as young women, but as young women in demographics that demand more support from those of more privileged backgrounds. While talented women as a whole struggle to succeed in the workplace due to the glass ceiling, women of color in particular face barriers that are more akin to concrete rather than glass.

Women of color have historically been disregarded in the fight for female empowerment and gender equality. While it’s great that there is a feminist movement in the first place, the women who are representing the movement are predominately of one demographic group.

These women – think Emma Watson, Patricia Arquette, and Jennifer Lawrence – do amazing things, and their contributions have undoubtedly been incredibly valuable, but the fact that the faces of the movement are almost exclusively white narrows the conversation and is a disservice to women of color, who have been woefully underrepresented far too long. We often shy away from the discussion of how race impacts feminism, and the lack of inclusion of women of color in the mainstream feminist movement.

And this isn’t new. Even in the early 1900’s, black women were forced to march at the back of the equality marches in Washington, D.C., were victim to racist rhetoric from feminist icons like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and never had their unique issues vocalized by the prominent voices representing the movement in their day.

“Women are not a monolithic group,” says Fortune writer Valerie Purdie-Vaughns. “Black and white women contend with very different workplace challenges. Initiatives that effectively identify and retain top talent must consider the unique challenges black women face and the leadership aspirations they offer.”

The fact that women earn only “77 cents for every dollar” a man earns is a common source of outrage for every Pres girl; however, what isn’t a commonly discussed fact is that the average black woman makes 70 cents, and the average Hispanic woman makes a mere 61 cents for every dollar a man earns. In every aspect of life, from the workplace to health to family planning, gender and race intersect in a way that makes barriers impossible to shatter without the support of other groups of women.

I’m not trying to make this a “women of color have it tougher than you” competition. Nor am I trying to point fingers at groups that have made it more difficult for women of color to advance in society. But keeping women of color quiet about the injustices isn’t progress – in fact, it simply divides the feminist movement even further.

While it seems that advancements in eradicating stereotypes about the abilities of women have already been made, millions of women have been left behind over the past few decades. It’s time to give a voice to those who have been voiceless for so long, because the struggles that a middle-class white woman face in the workplace – while present – are so much more different than those of an immigrant woman with a heavy accent working a minimum wage job.

As young women in a diverse school, recognizing differences while demanding the same treatment is crucial to creating an even more supportive and welcoming environment. Race and gender are not mutually exclusive – look around at your classmates and understand that while everyone leaves Pres on the same foot, systematic barriers define the struggles faced by your peers of color in the workplace and beyond.  

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