OP-ED | Stand With Black Women
I wear a “Stand with Black Women” button daily while working at the Connecticut State Capitol. I make this choice intentionally to create dialogue with our state elected officials — a dialogue that normally starts with a white man approaching me awkwardly and saying “well, I’m standing with you.”
On Wednesday, the conversation surrounding my button was something I was not anticipating. I approached Sen. John Fonfara who represents the 1st District, covering the South End and parts of the North End of Hartford where people of color make up 70 percent of the district. At the conclusion of my conversation with Senator Fonfara about SB 13: An Act Concerning the Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women — which primarily impacts black and brown women in our state, he points to me and says, “I need a Stand with White Men button.” After challenging him on this statement he accused me of listening to propaganda and challenged me to walk a day in his shoes.
These comments from someone who is elected by the people to represent a district with some of the highest numbers of black and brown people are beyond disrespectful and are deeply rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy. Practices like this are one of the reasons why systemic racism and oppression continue to be perpetuated. When the people who are in power and making decisions over our lives make comments that are so disconnected from the lived experiences of their constituents, we see policy and practices play out in our communities that not only keep us at a disadvantage but they are killing us. This week I was reminded that for a Black woman in political work that overt racism seems to be something that politicians, specifically white men, feel emboldened to perpetuate since the 2016 election.
Racism is not just presented when white supremacists carry torches and Nazi symbols, and when the president makes excuses for their violence. Racism and white supremacy are built into our economic, justice, housing, education, and health systems in ways that many people don’t think about. We all have a responsibility to tear out the foundations of racism wherever we find it: in ourselves, our communities and our organizations. They show up in all facets of people’s lives, from unequal access to quality affordable housing, effective education, and economic opportunities to police brutality and an unjust immigration system.
Every day I walk into the Capitol I am reminded of the long history of systemic racism within our country and how it plays out in the halls of our state house. Institutional racism, by policy and discriminatory practices, routinely produces unjust outcomes for people of color.
Practices like pay inequity and the way women, and more specifically women of color, are routinely compensated less than a white man with the same job history and profile. In Connecticut, for every dollar a white man makes, Black women are making 58 cents and Latina women 47 cents. When elected officials make out of touch comments like “You should walk in my shoes…” I would point them to the fact that black women have some of the highest health disparities in the country. Due to the intersection of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and other systemic barriers, people of color in the United States are disproportionately unable to access and benefit from quality health care. Women of color in the United States die from cervical cancer at more than twice the rate of white women and the U.S. is the only developed country with a maternal mortality ratio that has increased since 1990 despite improvements in health care. The fact is, Black women in the U.S. are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.
We cannot achieve equity in a country and culture where systemic racism continues to block people of color from health care and other opportunities. I wish Senator Fonfara and other white men could walk in my shoes and bear the burden and pain of racism, sexism, and misogyny. If they did there would be more policies and practices created to allow communities of color to thrive and survive.
Arvia Walker is the public policy and strategic engagement specialist for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.
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