The longstanding myth that Black females “do better” than Black males is a topic of great debate recently. Though snapshot data like that which showed the negative impact of evictions on Black women or ongoing school discipline data which show that racial disparities are even more prevalent among girls than they are for boys provide the foundation for an ongoing public appeal to President Obama for an inclusive investment in the wellbeing of communities of color—males and females alike.
A series of recent articles, including this one by Brittney Cooper and this one by Paul Butler, argue that it is important to bridge conversations about the wellbeing of Black men and women in particular, because Black women share many of the negative conditions and outcomes associated with America’s legacy of racial stratification and discrimination. The truth is, though we often speculate about the wellbeing of Black women and girls, there is still so much we don’t know about their conditions because racial justice efforts have routinely prioritized males and gender justice efforts continue to lack a rigorous racial analysis. This contributes to the invisibility of Black females—and their pain.
But here’s a little of what we do know:
- A national Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Black women believe racism (86%) and sexism (80%) are problems in today’s society.
- 30% of Black households are headed by single women, three times as many as White and Asian households.
- While recent data show Black women may be earning degrees at a higher rate than their male counterparts, trend data among women show that while college graduation rates have increased among first-time, full-time White, Asian and Latina collegiate females, there has been no such increase among their Black female collegiate colleagues.
- According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 12% of Black girls experience out of school suspensions, compared with 4% of Latina and 2% of White girls.
- Black females were nearly 11% of young adults ages 18 to 21 that were not high school graduates and not enrolled in high school between 2000 and 2009, compared with about 7% of White females.
- Black women make just 64 cents for every dollar earned by White males, which adds context to the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that Black women (27%) are more than twice as likely as White women to report having trouble paying their rent or mortgage, and that 73% of Black women worry about not having enough money to pay bills.
Like their male counterparts, Black women are also disproportionately facing violence and victimization:
- According to the Violence Policy Center, Black women are disproportionately being killed by gun violence—the majority of it resulting from arguments in domestic partner disputes: Black females were killed by males at a rate of 2.61 per 100,000 in single victim/single offender incidents, as compared to a rate of 0.99 per 100,000 for White women.
- Black women are imprisoned at a rate almost 3 times that of White women.
- Black females experience the highest percentage (15%) of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization in prisons.
In addition to these educational and economic indicators, there are a host of health and environmental factors negatively affecting Black women that are worthy of our attention:
- A Center for American Progress report found that 1 in 4 Black women are uninsured, and that same report found that only 35% of Black lesbian and bisexual women have had a mammogram in the past two years, compared with 60% of White lesbian and bisexual women.
- According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, while the suicide rate for Black females in general is relatively low compared to the U.S. rate, the percentage of Black girls (17.4%) who report having serious suicidal thoughts is almost double that of their male counterparts (9%).
- Rates of HIV infection are 20 times higher for Black women than they are for White women.
- More Black women die from breast cancer even though more White women are diagnosed with the disease—70% more likely in some areas of the U.S.
Black women are also disproportionately affected in major disasters. For example, the total number of Black females in the New Orleans metropolitan area decreased from 47% to 37% after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast in 2005, and Black women were noted as being among the isolated groups most likely to report experiencing depression following the BP oil spill in 2010.
The bottom line is that there is evidence to support a rigorous investment in the needs of Black women and girls, who—like their male counterparts—are uniquely impacted by intersections between race, gender, and poverty. Like many other women and men, I believe that there is absolutely a place for a gender-responsive thrust to programming that emerges from our racial justice agenda, but it is imperative that our conversations and public-private partnerships not underestimate or dismiss Black women and girls.
Ultimately, we can’t afford not to engage in discussions that move us toward what should be our true goal—addressing the racial disparities in economic, health, educational, justice, and other environmental conditions that affect both males and females. The stakes are too high and the consequences too great to continue the exclusion of Black women and girls from our most important and widespread discussions about racial equality and equal opportunity.