Juneteenth: Aunt Jemima and the True Price of Black Women’s Labor in the U.S.

 

For many African Americans, Juneteenth celebrated annually on June 19th, represents their true Independence Day, roughly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863. Notably, similar divides exist for Black women as it relates to the extra eight months they are required to work to meet wage parity of a white male in the United States, costing them nearly a million dollars in lost wages over the course of their lifetime. This opinion piece explores the true contributions and price of Black women’s labor in the US, and the demonstrated gains they have made despite all odds. 

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Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19th, represents a true Independence Day. Roughly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863, enslaved Africans were finally freed throughout the nation. This year’s Juneteenth celebration also coincides with the recall of the long-debated Aunt Jemima brand. Quaker Oats Company, the owner of Aunt Jemima products decided to rebrand the breakfast staple which has raised awareness of the exploited role of Black women’s labor and the pervasive negative stereotypes that continue to impact them. 

After emancipation, Black American women, both married and unwed, quickly dominated the working class and have participated in the US labor force more than both their male counterparts and white women ever since. Yet they remain the lowest paid. 

Today, Black women make only 61 cents to the dollar requiring an average additional eight months of labor to achieve wage parity to white men, or an additional six months to reach parity with white women. And, since the 1980s, the wage gap between White and Black women has averaged $123 dollars a week. This is compounded by the fact that 80% of Black women are the primary breadwinner of their households, yet their average net worth is only $100 in comparison to $41,000 for a single White woman. Thereby furthering the wealth chasm for Black families and communities.   

Despite receiving a higher percentage of degrees within their race/ethnic group than did women in any other major group, Black women have remained historically relegated and confined to low-wage, domestic labor, or retail jobs.  In profession, Black women struggle with access to management roles in corporate America, access to mentorship – 43% of them state that not having a mentor is an obstacle to their career acceleration, and are more likely than their counterparts to be laid off during recessions. COVID-19 has further exacerbated these circumstances. 

That may be why Black women in America are starting businesses at six times the national average, representing nearly 60-percent of all Black-owned businesses and forty-five percent of all minority-women-owned firms in the US. And, while they are making considerable progress and strides, they still disproportionality struggle with access to startup capital, resources, and loans; gender discrimination within male-dominated sectors; access to strong networks; difficulty in obtaining government contracts; and balancing children and family obligations at rates that exceed their male and female counterparts.  And, economists estimate that nearly 41-percent of Black companies have closed permanently due to COVID-19, representing a major blow to the achievements and economic circumstances of Black women.  

Exploring the history and legacy of Black women in the labor force is a story of inspiration and a continued legacy of obstacles and a lack of access.  In order for America to reach its fullest potential, it must adequately address the needs and intersectional challenges faced by African American women.   Reach economic equality depends on it. 

 

Want to know more?  Download our Black Women Entrepreneur Fast Facts Sheet

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Natalie Madeira Cofield is an entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and the founder of Walker’s Legacy a global women in business collective and its nonprofit arm, the Walker’s Legacy Foundation. 

Natalie Madeira Cofield

Natalie Madeira Cofield is the founder of Walker’s Legacy, a global women in business collective for enterprising multi-cultural women.

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