“I want to talk more about what we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our women and girls in America today,” said president Obama in his speech to the congressional black caucus on Saturday. Too often black women have been left searching for -- as Mary j Blige put it -- that “real love” from American society. With these words the president expressed what we hope to be the beginning of some long-awaited real love for black women and girls. While applauding black women’s role as civic leaders and social change agents, president Obama also pointed to the racial inequalities this population continues to experience. “in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African American men and the work we are doing with my brother’s keeper,” he said. “we can’t forget the impact the system has on women as well.” The African American Policy Forum commends the president for his recognition of the barriers to equality black women continue to face in American society. As we expressed in our open letter 15 months ago, “women and girls of color are not doing fine, and until they are, men and boys will not be doing fine either.” We look forward to seeing what concrete action the white house will take to follow through on the impetus to support women and girls of color expressed in his speech. This is a groundbreaking moment that cannot be separated from the tireless efforts of those of us in the #whywecantwait campaign to shed light on the need to support women and girls of color. As Brittney Cooper put it on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, “when you help black women and girls, you help everybody...so it’s a wonderful moment. It’s such a sister citizen moment too, there’s the politics of recognition. My question becomes: will we see it happen in substantive policy changes?” Black women and all women of color continue to experience alarming barriers to equality across a range of concerns, including educational attainment, state and interpersonal violence, disproportionate incarceration, and disparities in health and wealth. As the African American Policy Forum’s #herdreamdeferred series highlighted, women of color in their economic prime have a median net wealth of just $5, and black women were the only group whose unemployment rates didn’t fall in 2014 during the so-called economic recovery. Black women also experience persistent health disparities -- black women with advanced degrees have worse birth outcomes than white women without high school diplomas. In our public education system, when compared to their same-gender peers, Black girls experience a greater risk of punitive discipline than black boys. Girls of color also experience gender-specific burdens, including teen pregnancy, caretaking responsibilities, and sexual abuse in and outside school. Yet largely due to an information gap on the status of women and girls of color, the persistent myth that they are doing “just fine” continues to feed a cycle of marginalization in which resources and data collection are not directed toward this population. If the president truly wants to “provide full opportunity and equality” for women of color, he must advance targeted strategies that get to the systemic root causes of the crisis facing people of color in this country. He must expand programs like my brother’s keeper to include all people of color, while ensuring that these programs advance institutional change and go beyond individual-level interventions. In the spirit of his commitment to further uplift women and girls of color, join us in calling on president Obama to use his remaining time in office to take meaningful action in this arena.
This is an unprecedented moment in which to shed light on the needs of women and girls of color. What actions can the white house take now? What do you think real love for women and girls of color would look like? Click here to tell us what you think and how you would like to get involved.
Please also join us in sharing the above image along with the following #whywecantwait tweets and composing your own:
We appreciate Obama’s speech, but we think even more can be done to show real love for black women and girls.#whywecantwait
“Historically, it has been the advocacy and agitation of those marginalized by American society that has advanced our collective agendas,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American policy forum and the center for intersectionality and social policy studies. “this is true of women and girls of color now more than ever. We must continue to push for the advancement of women and girls of color as part of holistic racial justice agenda.” This moment would not have happened without us raising our voices to demand the recognition of our rights, and we must remember that this is not the end of our collective responsibility. President Obama’s speech was a great first step--but the fight is not over. Support for women and girls cannot be just rhetorical. Just as men and boys need specific interventions, so too do women and girls. Together, let’s advance an inclusive vision of racial justice that targets the systemic root causes of racial and gender inequality. Let’s demand real love for ourselves and our sisters!