by Latoya Peterson
Yesterday, a headline in the Post-Gazette worked its way around Twitter: Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5. Most outlets qualified the link by calling it “shocking” or mentioning the five dollar figure was not a typo.
I called up a fellow young black professional friend of mine and told her about the findings of the study. “Is it messed up that I’m kind of glad in a way?” she asked, “I mean, all this time I’ve been wondering why I can’t get my shit together, but it turns out I’m normal.” We both laughed at her small attempt at gallows humor around a situation many of us know a little too intimately – when it comes to our white counterparts, women of color are light years behind in wealth.
The study is a new report from The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, titled “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future.” The report is an in-depth look at the issues in wealth accumulation particular to black women, Latinas, Asian and Native American women. However, even as this report is one of the most comprehensive I have seen on the subject, the limited data for Asian American and Native American women means that their statistics are limited from entire sections of the report, and discussed in a subsequent section about the need for better stats. The report’s title is should be a familiar refrain to many black women, but the author of the report, Mariko Chang, kindly includes an explanation of the origin of the phrase:
More than a century ago, the National Association for Colored Women was founded by African American women leaders in response to a vicious attack on the character of African-American women. A few decades distant from the abolition of slavery, the intensification of poverty, discrimination, and segregation impelled these women to action in defense of their race. Their motto was “Lifting as We Climb,” signaling their understanding that no individual woman of color could rise, nor did they want to rise, without the improvement of the whole race. At the top of their agenda were job training, wage equity, and child care: issues that, if addressed, would lift all women, and all people of color.
The lift as we climb refrain was implanted into some of us from birth and a lot of my earliest lessons about black empowerment focused on financial empowerment. Yet, these adages about saving money, investing in the community, and being a conscious consumer was like propping a footstool against a fifty foot high sheer rock wall. Continue reading