The United States of America is on the precipice of seeing another first in the anticipated retirement announcement of Washington, D.C. Justice Stephen Breyer from his seat as one of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. This announcement set off the usual frenzied speculation about who will be “the pick,” just like it did after the death of the Honorable Ruth Bader-Ginsburg.
The Supreme Court has become a super-legislature to which we look for solutions for everything from gun violence, the ruling on Roe v. Wade, to the Covid-19 pandemic. This super-legislative body of individuals, all of whom are appointed for life – are seen as saviors or destroyers of our democracy. Hence, the frenzy to know who will replace Justice Breyer is off and running!
Strengthening the diversity of the judicial branch has been a key priority for the Biden administration and President Biden has affirmed that he will appoint a Black woman to the top US court for the first time in history. This, readers, is the reason for another installment regarding Black women of America.
I want to take this time to piggyback off two recent DC Voice posts that highlight Black women who are little known, yet instrumental in their extraordinary accomplishments and sustainable successes in America! I wanted to take a deeper dive into why Black women like these are, let’s say, not readily seen, heard of, or somewhere below the radar. Or should I say invisible?
Even with the information provided in the Hidden Figures and Goldman Sachs: Helping to Grow Black Female Entrepreneurship posts, there are still stories to tell about Black women business owners and Black women seeking to launch a business. What is the root of their invisibility? Let’s see if some light can be shed that answers that question and brings generations of Black businesswomen out of history’s shadows.
As a disclaimer, I would say that this post may not be able to answer all the questions of why many Black businesswomen exist below the radar of the world. However, information provided here can be useful in widening the lens and add to the breadth of knowledge regarding the challenges of Black female business owners, or those seeking to launch their own business. The answers begin with identifying how society views Black women. And these views have their roots in our history.
Stepping Back in Time
The footprints of racial ideologies are not hidden in the sands of time. The first burst of contentions about the natural inferiority of a racially defined population came with the spread of Europeans into the new world and waged upon people of color, starting with the Native Americans.
I digress. Because of racial ideologies Black women have been excluded from their contribution to the fabrics of this great nation. Although their contributions were often overlooked, Black women were and still are the backbone of their family and community. Black women historically fought on multiple fronts from abolition of slavery to suffrage, from ending segregation to civil rights. Black women have always served on the front-line in the fight for equality.
Racial ideologies, described as a tool used by the dominant group to exert power and influence over subjugated groups, have continually been used to keep Black people on the lowest rung of the ladder. These ideologies enable the dominant group to maintain control over valued resources, furthering racial inequities.
The Invisible Black Woman
Black women make up approximately 12.9% of the U.S. population. According to the 2020 United State Census Bureau, by 2060, women of color will be the majority of all women in the United States. However, twenty-three million Black women in America are seen in their struggle as not worth seeing, thus not worthy of respect and equality. The invisibility of Black women is astounding. This invisibility might put Black women continually at risk of being below the radar in America’s scheme of social valuation and status.
Why are Black women consistently rendered invisible? The Invisibility of Black Women – Boston Review attempts to provide an answer. The review indicates invisibility is connected to “misogyny writ large,” the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Black women share in American women’s general struggle to be seen, cast, appreciated, recognized, employed—and not only as caretakers, as supporters, as the undergirding of men’s ambitions, but as possessing their own unique and valuable intentions that may or may not complement those of men. This may be true, but for me, dislike or contempt coupled with legislation and social policy that are often responsible for the diminishment of Black women’s visibility, is harsher towards Black women as our history has shown us. Thus, hindering the success of Black women.
Research on racial and gender stereotyping typically focuses on the role of one of these social categories one at a time rather than race/gender combinations. The study suggests that the relative non-prototypicality of Black women’s race and gender results in their “invisibility” relative to White women and to Black and White men. With that said, let’s take a look at what Black women were and are still up against that impact them being successful businesswomen.
What Black Women are up Against
Black women are up against many challenges in business, two of the most significant being race and gender. Centuries later, race and gender continue to create divergent and uneven outcomes for Black women. This is particularly evident in the underrepresentation and experiences of women in professional occupations. An oft-cited statistic, for instance, reveals that factors including, but not limited to, motherhood penalties, gender discrimination, and occupational segregation prevent women of color from advancing at work and owning their own businesses. These factors are quite different from what holds back white women, and even men of color.
Black women in corporate America are less likely than their male or white colleagues to receive the support and access they need to advance despite being just as ambitious. They become the invisible Black woman. Black women are often overlooked in people’s conversations about racism and sexism even though they face a unique combination of both forms of discrimination (race and gender) simultaneously. The double minority status of Black women makes them more vulnerable to further marginalization.
For many Black people in business, a college education is necessary for advancement. When looking at the reality of the educated, a study conducted by Rutgers University revealed that Black women in America are enrolled in college at a higher percentage than any other group. And so, the plot thickens. Could it be that the more success you have as a Black woman, the more threatening you appear? However, education alone is not sufficient to achieve racial equality. Black wealth is the answer to Black economic empowerment.
From Below the Radar to World Recognition
Yes. Change is coming to help things move along quicker. Black women aren’t just Black women. They are motivated, confident, ambitious and determined. They are innovative business leaders. Supporting Black female entrepreneurs is a way to mobilize economic resources for the purpose of racial uplift, empowerment, and recognition. This is a call for Black people to cultivate racial pride and solidarity as well as social, political, and independent wealth.
We must recognize and support Black female business owners and their roles in the design of America. Recognizing and patronizing Black female businesses are the most powerful actions we can take to support these communities of women to grow and be sustainable. In my opinion, this puts the power directly into the hands of Black female entrepreneurs. This approach can go a long way in redistribution of resources, easier access to capital, and can promote generational wealth.
Even with all the challenges faced by Black women, they find their own ways to fight back. They are creating their own institutions, organizations and businesses. I think that’s really important to the long legacy of Black women and their success. Black women are saying, ‘you will know me. You will see me.’ The heck with everybody else, let’s show them how it’s done!
Nash, M. (1962). Race and the Ideology of Race. Current Anthropology, 3(3), 285–288. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2739580
Sesko, A. K., & Biernat, M. (2010). Prototypes of race and gender: The invisibility of Black women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(2), 356–360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.10.016