Forty percent of black women say getting married is very important, compared with 55 percent of white women. This finding is among a number of significant differences in the outlooks and experiences of black and white women, according to the poll. Here are others: More than a fifth of black women say being wealthy is very important, compared with one in 20 white women. Sixty-seven percent of black women describe themselves as having high self-esteem, compared with 43 percent of white women. Forty percent of black women say they experience frequent stress, compared with 51 percent of white women. Nearly half of black women fear being a victim of violent crime, compared with about a third of white women.
“We have depth. We have pain. We have bad. We have good. We have complexity,” says Beverly Bond, a disc jockey based in New York and founder of the philanthropic effort Black Girls Rock! “We need to see the well-roundedness of who we are. We need to see everyone.”
Asha Jennings Palmer says black women are too often viewed as flashy, provocative, eye-catching — imagery that makes her cringe.
“According to the stereotype, African American women — educated women — are b------, and they run men out of their lives because they are so mean and they don’t want a man and blah, blah,” says Palmer, an Atlanta lawyer who helped lead protests of rapper Nelly’s controversial “Tip Drill” video when she was a student at Spelman College. “My law firm has no African American female partners. It has to do with how we are seen. And our value is based on what the media shows the world we are.”
History of exclusion
Black women were once described as the “mules of the world” by Zora Neale Hurston, whose biting literature made her one of the most influential black writers of the early 20th century. Her reference to mules — the workhorses of the American South — pointed to the backbreaking manual labor that black women were expected to perform and the limits placed on their vocations.
Throughout history, black women have been overrepresented in the workforce compared with other women and have come to embrace work as an enduring part of their sense of self, says Constance C.R. White.
“Career for black women has always been about economic necessity and also a sense of economic destiny,” says White, editor of the nation’s oldest black women’s magazine, Essence.
Following the civil rights movement, black women moved from manual labor and domestic work, where they had been concentrated, into a wider range of professions. In 1977, Patricia Roberts Harris became the first black woman to lead a department of the federal government, entering the line of succession for the U.S. presidency. When Harris was appointed to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said her gender and race made her a “two for one” and called the hoopla around her nomination the result of “tragic exclusion.”