This White Feminist Knows that “Race-Silent” Policies are Insufficient and Part of the Problem

March 24, 2021 Ellen Buchman

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

I’ve built my career bringing together coalitions and community, and doing what I can to step back so that others can step in. And now, as I mark this year’s Women’s History Month, during the month that the federal government moves forward with a much-needed COVID relief package, I cannot help but think about how the past year has served as a powerful reminder of our country’s systemic fissures and failings, and the need for a meaningful coming together to address them. This is not the time to go back to the same old status quo solutions that, for so many, are woefully insufficient. This is not the time to continue race-silent policies that fail to address the struggles of Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian, and other women of color directly in order to achieve an economy that truly works for everyone.

The Child Tax Credit program is a prime example of a policy that works. But we know it could do a lot more if it is centered on those hit the hardest so it can truly address the racial income inequality. We’ve heard the stats and the sadly familiar story: In 2020, white women were paid 79% of what white men were paid, a disturbing inequality, but one that is only magnified when you consider that Black women earned 63% and have a median wealth that is $120,000 less than white women. On top of this, since the pandemic, women of color saw their income decrease even more, even though they make up most frontline workers.

I am the product of the feminist movement. And I’m so proud of that. My own chances, my own choices, my own success, is in part thanks to so many pioneer women – and some men – who came before me to push the boundaries as they challenged patriarchy and gender inequity every step of the way. I became a feminist activist thanks to them.

While I am forever grateful to the feminist movement for getting us this far in the fight for gender equity, I must also take a step back and call out the history of some well-intentioned white folks - even feminists - for pushing “race-silent” arguments that undermine or ignore the heart of the problem. I have to acknowledge that challenging the patriarchal norms has not been enough to address the inequalities that so many women of color continue to face.

Feminism is thankfully grappling more and more with this. There has been a growing recognition that we need to account for the true value of women’s work both inside and outside the office. If women around the world were paid the minimum wage for unpaid labor at home, then women would receive $10.9 Trillion. While this is vital to account for, we must take this argument even further so we can calculate more fully for the work women of color must undertake to care for their communities every day. After all, we pay for care. Why not pay for their time to provide that care, cook those meals, or serve their neighbors?

Economist Nina Banks points out that “making women’s collective nonmarket work visible enables us to theorize women’s oppression and exploitation in a manner that is inclusive of the lives of racialized women.” From taking on police brutality to the Flint water crisis, women of color have led the charge in fighting for their community’s health without pay or support, many times while also working a day job and raising a family. Accounting for unpaid labor in the home and in the community is vital if we hope to build an economic recovery that accounts for the ways in which societal shortcomings have added to the burden of so many women. If I am to acknowledge those who broke ground and came before me, then I must also acknowledge these women, too.

Black women and other women of color sit at the crossroads of sexism and racism and if that intersection is not addressed, then recovery efforts will only further increase the inequities that persist. It is with this in mind that my organization, The Opportunity Agenda, joined with Amplifier to develop We Can Thrive Together, a guide for how to talk about economic recovery with an eye toward addressing systemic inequity. The guide also asserts an aspirational vision of what we want to be as a society.

I am proud to stand with feminists today to push for intersectional solutions that foster a more supportive environment for women of color, especially Black women. By telling the story of the movement with women of color at the center, we can help deliver not just new ideas of how we can provide support, but also anti-racist ways of solving the patriarchal problems of today.