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As a woman, the wage gap is the injustice that tastes most bitter to me—although not being able to walk around freely after dark and listening to men speak to me like I'm a toddler are a close second and third. When I'm trying to stretch a dollar, I regularly think about all the pennies missing from my paycheck and how they'll add up to a lifetime of lost earnings just because I'm a woman. And layer on top of that all of the earnings lost because I'm black. This loss could be the difference between owning a home and renting. Between interest paid on a loan and interest made off investments. Between retiring at 65 and working for as long as I can into my old age. It feels like going into a casino, walking up to a poker table and having the dealer swipe almost half my chips before I even place my bet for some arbitrary reason like I wore a skirt instead of slacks that day.
I've experienced pay inequity since my first job as a drive-thru girl at a fast food joint known for its soft-serve. A co-worker, who was also classmate, and I started at the same time with no prior experience, and I learned he was making 50 cents more per hour than me. He's a white man; I'm a black woman. At the end of my shift, with my sneakers stinking of dairy gone sour and skin smelling like fry grease gone cold, I stood in front of my manager, a white woman, and made my case for a raise: they scheduled me more shifts, the district manager said they needed more employees like me, and they made higher revenue when I worked the window. "I can't afford to give you a raise," she said. So, I quit.
As I got older, and I began working salaried positions, that same prickly-skin sensation of injustice would come over me, but I'd no longer have the luxury of quitting every time I knew someone was earning more than me simply for being a man. Ironically, I wouldn't be able to leave these positions, because money, or rather the lack of it, would become more crucial to my welfare as an adult with rent to pay and a car payment to make. I had to accept the payment I was given, even if it was less than what I had earned. As a black woman the combined forces of sexism and racism mean I can simultaneously be the most qualified person on the payroll and the lowest paid.
So, on April 12, when white feminist Twitter whirled itself into a tweet-storm flooding feeds with Equal Pay Day awareness, I absent-mindedly retweeted one of their #equalpayday tweets. The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) chose the date to "[symbolize] how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year." One of my followers was quick to remind me that not all women were represented by that date or that hashtag; an adjective was missing.
Like the NCPE's Equal Pay Day definition, many of the tweets failed to mention that this stat only applies to white women and their wage gap. White women earn 79 cents for every $1 white men earn. By comparison, the difference between most women of color's wages and the wages of white men is more canyon than gap.
According to Now.org, just this week, August 23, black women reached our Equal Pay Day. Native American women must wait until September 14, and Hispanic and Latina women won't see Equal Pay Day until November 1—our brown sisters are working nearly an entire additional year before their paychecks level up with their white male counterparts! That's a damn disgrace. And anyone who identifies as gay, lesbian, queer or trans doesn't have a specified Equal Pay Day, although research shows these groups also earn less money than cis white straight men for completing the same work.
And what about Asian-American women? They hit Equal Pay Day on March 15, nearly a month earlier than white women, but as Now.org points out, that stat can be deceiving, because "many smaller sub-groups of Asian-American women have a much larger wage gap."
And if years past are any indication, none of these dates will see the push from white feminist Twitter that the April 12 date received. It's telling that the NCPE has updated the name of Equal Pay Day and is now calling it "Traditional" Equal Pay Day in a move to acknowledge the date doesn't represent every woman. But why not be transparent and call it what it is, White Woman Equal Pay Day? The constant criticism of white feminism is that it only seeks out progress for itself without actually acknowledging its narrow focus, #notallwomen. It's like white feminism wants to pull all women under the same umbrella when they're standing in a thunderstorm and the rest of us are in a monsoon. Making whiteness visible combats the erasure of women of color.
White women please remember to update your hashtags next April and throughout the year support tweets building awareness for wage gaps experienced by other demographics. We can all reach out to the NCPE to ask them to update their website and encourage them to identify days for every group that faces a pay inequity.