By Michael Asiffo
Black women have it bad. How bad? They are statistically the worst treated group when it comes to wage, access to university, and treatment from police officers. It should be said that it gets worse, however, the most appalling thing is how little it is reported.
In this VIBE TALKS interview, Correspondent Michael Asiffo speaks with Simone BOHN – Associate Professor, Political Science at York University about the marginalization of black women in North America.
Michael: Just how horribly are black women being marginalized or discriminated against in our world today and more specifically North America?
Simone: So I think it’s like a dual history of discrimination and unfair treatment. This stands from a history of obstacles that are crystallized in practices from the public sector and the private sector but at the same time we see that there is a lot of hope and resilience from black women. So in terms of difficulties, and difficulties of a historical nature, for instance we see that in Canada that black women had a history of less access to university. 23% of black women have a university degree versus 25% of the average female population. They also face unemployment more often. Evidently, this has an impact of their average income and there is a lot of research that show that they are not particularly well treated during job interviews. So there are a lot of discriminatory hiring practices in the corporate road towards black women and also in the public sector. We also have a lot of research that shows that they also face unfair treatment in hospitals, with the police force, when crossing the border for example. So when dealing with public sector agents, if you will.
Michael: So I think the first place that I went to when doing my research, when looking up this topic (I saw) how poorly black women were treated when it comes to crossing the border or a routine traffic stop by a police officers. This is an underreported topic, especially given that police brutality towards blacks has been a huge problem. So why has this not been talked about enough?
Simone: So this goes back to what I was talking about before and you eluded to in your very own question. It is a practice that has historical roots of a high degree of discrimination and racism that has been institutionalized. Then certain assumptions are based on certain people’s race and this goes to the actions of public sector agents such as police officers. You know, police officers are the face of the state in the street and when their practices are so blatantly discriminatory towards visible minority, you can see that whole legacy that institutionalized racism is still very present in our societies.
Michael: Right there you mentioned institutionalized racism and this sometimes is not as glaring as a police mistreating somebody at a stop or making an arrest. Sometimes, it is covert and I want to get your opinion; what are some examples that are not necessarily overt and blatant but are examples that any black woman should look for in case it happens to them?
Simone: I think that good examples of what you are mentioning pertain to the hiring practices. So for instance, certain CV’s in a job search catch the attention of a potential employer. However, during the interview when it becomes visible to the employer that he or she is dealing with a visible minority then there is resistance. So then we see that certain social practices also reveal that institutional racism also permeate to institutions in the market, if you will, in the corporate world. Obviously black women should pay close attention to those; however, as you said it is hard to mount a resistance to that.
Michael: Let’s say by sheer determination, a black woman gets a job. However there is still a pay gap where black women get massively underpaid in comparison to the rest of their contemporaries in the workplace. Can you delve deep on that?
Simone: Yes. There is data that clearly shows that there is a gap in wages between men and women but there is also a gap between white women and visible minority women. This is visible in lots of areas of the private sector. However, the problem is it is very difficult to address this issue because these are private entities and they can proceed in the way they see fit. The only resistance that’s possible to that is more awareness, more campaigns to make this invisible issue very visible because it affects visible minority women and black women in a very specific way. Something I want to mention is that we are talking about these problems that are of a historical nature but I also want to mention that black women are very resilient and very articulate. If you look at the percentage of women who work, black women are one of the top ones. So the higher percentage of women who work outside the home, black women have a high performance in that regard. Also, they have a very interesting networking capacity. The capacity to search for information so they do not give up easily, they are constantly thinking and are very tenacious and resilient in the face of obstacles and that should always be stressed.
Michael: A lot of cases you are seeing black women who are qualified get discriminated against. Has our government tried to do anything to combat this?
Simone: There have been attempts at that but we know that this remains as a considerable problem. I think now it is incumbent upon civil society actors to exert more pressure on governmental figures to make sure that this issue is addressed and changed. Because it is unacceptable that two individuals that have the same performance at work, one is paid less than the other just because one is a visible minority. In the 21st century this is totally unacceptable, particularly in a society like Canada where there is this emphasis on multiculturalism and the acceptance of diversity.
Michael: You’ve mentioned that it’s completely unacceptable and I think a lot of Canadians are in the same boat. However, it’s so under reported like we mentioned off the top. So are there any resources that our listeners can go to in order to be informed and then speak out?
Simone: There are some civil society groups that advocate for women’s rights but I think there is too much of a conflation of problems here - that there is a lot of emphasis here on the differences between men and women and less of an emphasis on the diversity of women and how heterogeneous they are. So I think that these agencies or organizations that advocate women’s rights also pay close attention to the diversity of their clientele. And to the need to advocate for women of all colours, races, ethnicities and religions.