The dual obstacles of racism and sexism continue to block black women in career advancement and opportunity, says a local representative of the National Urban League.
"We must recognize that these double burdens coexist as obstacles which we must live with, and yet eliminate, as we fight constantly for equal opportunity," said Maudine R. Cooper, vice president for the league's Washington operations.
Cooper, speaking at the recent Montgomery County Women's Fair, said black women should be concerned with four major issues: affordable day-care, affirmative action, equal pay for comparable work, and Social Security.
"Black women have a greater stake than other women in the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment because disproportionately high numbers of black women work and receive disproportionately low wages," Cooper said.
She urged workshop participants to "make ERA work for you. Be in there, say what you have to say." She said passage of the ERA will enhance career opportunities for black women. The issue is not getting into the work force, but rather, advancement in the work force: "We black women have traditionally worked," Cooper said.
Black women have made major economic advances in recent years, she said. Still, Cooper noted, "the earnings of all women are only slightly more than half that of men."
ERA supporters say, for example, that in 1976 the average working woman earned only 59 cents for every dollar earned by the average working man.
Black women face greater challenges in certain areas than do their white counterparts, Cooper said. In some occupations, such as teaching, race and sex discrimination can overlap to handicap black women. "Only 10 percent of school administrators are women of all races ," Cooper said. "And only 9 percent of elementary school principals and 4 percent of secondary school principals are minorities of both sexes ."
Cooper quoted statistics provided by the Urban League to underscore her argument that black women must hurdle more obstacles than white women in competing in the job market. More black women--46.7 percent--are the heads of single-parent households, compared with 22.6 percent of white women. In addition, she said, unemployment rates for blacks, including women, are higher than for whites (the unemployment rate for adult minority women was 12.7 percent in the last quarter of 1981, compared with 6.1 percent for white women); the black teen-age unemployment rate is "as high as 80 percent" in many U.S. metropolitan areas.
"For many black women, the notion of a white cottage with a picket fence is just that--a notion," Cooper said. "The most disadvantaged segment of the black community is the female headed household."
In 1980, the average income of a black female head of household was $8,734, compared with $13,445 for a household headed by a white woman.
While some black Americans have made unquestioned economic progress since the 1960s, Cooper believes many others "remain locked in a state of economic distress and dependency."
"There has been a widening of the gap between black professionals and other blacks who hold low-level, unskilled jobs," she said.
Another area of concern for all segments of society is the growing number of teen-age pregnancies, said Cooper. In the black community, this is a major problem because there are more teenage girls, the incidence of teen-age sex has increased, and blacks tend to keep their out-of-wedlock babies, she said. Only 7 percent are given up for adoption or placed, compared with 67 percent of white out-of-wedlock babies, said Cooper.
Out-of-wedlock status "usually indicates that the mother can look forward to little or no consistent financial help from the father of the child."
Cooper stressed that all black mothers must give their children a sense of reality about racism and teach them to deal with it.
"Providing a positive role model for them and for other black children is the most important thing we can give, besides love and affection," she said.