The Black Lives Matter movement continues to challenge systematic racism in our homes, in our professions, and in our deeply ingrained ideologies. Many people have felt impassioned to make a difference, join a march, donate funds, have difficult conversations with loved ones, and do all they can to make long-lasting change. One of the most important groups to help are Black women, who statistically make less money, face harsher criticism, and experience extreme racial bias in nearly all facets of life. As Joy Altimare, career expert and chief brand engagement officer for EHE Health, puts it, Black women don’t need help—they need equality, justice, and support from white men, white women, and Black men.
The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data suggest that the US Black population—especially Black women—scored higher than their white counterparts across crucial risk factors and disease states—and Altimare explains that these racial differences were not explained by poverty alone. “Poor and non-poor Black women had the highest and second-highest probability of high allostatic load scores [or exponential stress from all parts of life], respectively, and the highest excess scores compared with their male or white counterparts,” she continues.
So how can you step in and end this cycle? Here, female POC leaders offer their expertise and guidance.
Start where you are.
It’s okay if you feel overwhelmed by how much has to change for Black women to find equality and recognition. But it’s not okay to do nothing. Rather than taking on an acre, begin with an inch, by starting where you are, according to Michelle Saahen, co-founder of From Privilege to Progress. This means doing a deep-dive into your industry by researching the history of race and racism and then challenging the status quo. Or, consider your zip code and local community. Or even discuss racism with your closest friends and find ways to combat it within your family.
Be an anti-racist and anti-sexist—in both your personal and professional life alike.
The numbers speak volumes for how far behind Black women are in terms of financial security and freedom. Due to racism, sexism, and other systemic barriers that have contributed to income inequality, Altimare says Black women are typically paid just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. “Median wages for Black women in the United States are $36,227 per year, which is $21,698 less than the median wages for white, non-Hispanic men,” she continues. “These lost wages mean Black women and their families have less money to support themselves and their families and may have to choose between essential resources like housing, childcare, food, and health care.”
Whether you are actively hiring new employees at your own company or are part of the decision-making process, demand that Black women are recruited and interviewed fairly. You can be both their advocate and their ally.
Trust and listen to Black women.
When it comes to sexual health, Vanessa Geffrard, MPH, a sexpert for Lovers, says the most important thing is to listen to and trust Black women. “Historically, Black women’s opinions have been overlooked, autonomy has been stolen, and voices stifled—essentially infantilizing them and not trusting their wisdom and knowledge on what they know best—themselves and their bodies,” she continues. “When Black women speak up, listen and be propelled into action. We are the experts in our care, sexuality, lives, and bodies.”
Bring attention to your local school district.
Saahene reminds us that you don’t need to be a parent to bring attention to faculty diversity in your local school district by challenging them to hire more Black female teachers. Since everyone pays taxes that contribute to the school system in their area, you should feel empowered to ensure there is diversity among teachers. This benefits the next generation since Saahene says it breaks down stereotypes and normalizes seeing Black in all spaces. “It helps them have a healthier respect for authority figures across racial lines, whereas having all white teachers gives a subtle and not-so-subtle message that white equals authority,” she continues.
Plus, having more Black teachers would mean better safety of Black girls. According to the Discipline Data for Girls in U.S. Public Schools, Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Black girls are punished more harshly in school than kids of other races. “Blind spots can prevent teachers and other authority figures from seeing the limitless potential of our Black girls, and unintentionally not offer them the same focus and support given to other students,” Saahene explains. “There needs to be an accurate representation of Black teachers for the children and also to diversify the field.”
Elect officials who are interested in changing healthcare policies.
According to a National Partnership report released in 2018, Black expectant mothers are more likely to be uninsured and face the most significant financial barriers when accessing prenatal care. And because as a whole, Black women don’t have equal access to preventive care, they suffer from higher rates of preventable diseases, like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. So when they decide to start their families? Altimare says those conditions impact maternal and infant health outcomes.
Or to put it bluntly: too many Black women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth.
“To improve Black women’s maternal health, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses Black women’s health across the lifespan, improves access to quality care, addresses social determinants of health and provides greater economic security,” she explains.
This means voting in policymakers who will prioritize big changes, fast. “Black women should receive health care that is respectfully, culturally relevant and competent, safe and of the highest quality. Full stop. This is critical for the success of Black women, the Black family and the United States culture,” Altimare adds.
Shop at Black woman-owned businesses.
If you’re thinking about holiday shopping, want to send an engagement, wedding, or baby gift, or your wardrobe needs an update, research Black woman-owned businesses. Saahene says this is a step you can take right now to stimulate this sector of the economy. “When you’re shopping at a Black-owned business, you’re also supporting Black children, families, and communities. Shopping at Black-owned businesses helps close the wealth gap,” she shares. “Not being authentically included and valued in corporate spaces is a big push for women of color to be our own boss. It was for me. We are creating our own version of happiness and creating our own paths because many paths weren’t built for us to walk on.”