For an equitable economy in 2021, we must center Black women. Here are four ways how.
January 4, 2021 Ms. Magazine
Post-election, there has been an outpouring of appreciation for Black women voters, whose organizing and turnout at the polls led to victory for President-elect Joe Biden.
It is a fact: Without Black voters and high turnout among Black women, President-Elect Biden would not have won. Now, his administration not only has an opportunity, but a responsibility to be accountable, listen deeply to Black women, and implement policies that show up for us the way we showed up for Biden.
“Trust Black Women” and “No path to victory without Black women” must be more than statements: They’re bare-minimum requirements.
We show up reliably—yet we remain among the most disenfranchised populations in the United States and have been hard-hit by the pandemic, which is exacerbating generations-old structural barriers designed to keep economic power out of Black women’s hands. Today, Black women own less than a penny on the dollar compared to white men, and pennies compared to white women.
As Biden and his transition team look ahead, we must not rebuild the status quo, or simply “build back better.” Biden has an imperative to build a new, stronger, more equitable economy.
To create an economy where Black women can succeed, we must center Black women in policy solutions, following the Black Women Best principle: “If Black women—who, since our nation’s founding, have been among the most excluded and exploited by the rules that structure our society—can one day thrive in the economy, then it must finally be working for everyone.”
Center Black Women’s Economic Security
First, we must center Black women in policies that support household economic security.
As breadwinners and caregivers, Black women are the lynchpin of their families’ economic security. Although they have consistently had higher levels of labor market participation than other women, Black women continually face higher rates of unemployment, as well.
Because this pandemic has catapulted unemployment to crisis levels (currently 9.3 percent for Black women), we need a guaranteed income that is not employment-dependent. Innovative guaranteed income proposals like Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) LIFT+ Act can prevent poverty and support economic security for families by helping them pay for necessities and meet their basic needs.
Provide Relief for Black Women Entrepreneurs
Second, we need to enact relief packages that are designed to benefit Black women business owners, who are starting new businesses faster than other racial and ethnic groups.
Recent COVID-19 legislation has kept relief out of reach for them: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, for example, benefited white-owned businesses but rejected many Black business owners, often without explanation—a haunting echo of Jim Crow-era economic policies that deliberately blocked Black businesses from capital. In a Small Business Majority survey, 23 percent of Black business owners said their PPP applications were denied—compared to nine percent of white business owners.
Reparations Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap
Third, a plan for reparations is long overdue. The U.S. economy and the wealth of white households was built on the backs of Black bodies.
Following 250 years of slavery, policies like the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were enacted to block Black people from job opportunities and land ownership. Black women were precluded from voting and accessing credit or loans until the 60s and 70s and steered into subprime mortgages in the early 00s, resulting in foreclosure and wealth losses that they have yet to recover.
A legacy of racist policies and practices created the wealth chasm that we see between white and Black households today, and reparations is one of the only strategies that can atone for America’s sins and narrow the gap.
Prioritize Community Programming—Not Police Spending
Finally, we need to re-evaluate how we spend federal capital. We should prioritize programs and initiatives that strengthen our communities instead of undermining them. That includes moving away from excessive funding that militarizes the police, and instead investing in mental health outreach and support, access to education, and more funding for housing programs like the Homes for All Act introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), which guarantees housing as a human right. Post-pandemic recovery is just a start.
We can use immediate relief and recovery efforts that center Black women to lay the groundwork for long-term economic resilience. And we must dismantle historic barriers, reimagining a future with new pathways for Black women to thrive.
If we can begin to measure our progress by asking how our policies create pathways to success for those who have been most excluded and exploited, especially Black women, we will finally have a clear vision of an economy that works for everyone.
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