The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

It's All Connected: Race and Gender part 1

It's All ConnectedMartha BurwellComment

Race is always a tricky subject to talk about.  But Seattle, we’ve got to talk about it.  Because we've got a long history of racism in our beautiful city, beginning with how the land was taken from the still-unrecognized Duwamish people including chief Sealth (Seattle). 

Even though we're progressive in many ways, we've got a hell of a lot of work to do when it comes to racial equality.

The city’s been buzzing after the #BlackLivesMatter women interrupted Bernie Sanders’ event and the crowd had an averse reaction (we won’t discuss that here, but I suggest checking out Pramila Jayapal’s article). 

Race is a subject that I’m (the author, Martha) personally learning a lot about as well—I’m white, and therefore have the privilege to not have to think or talk about race all the time.  But I’d rather be uncomfortable in this regard, so that I can work towards being an ally and a true social justice advocate. 

As part of the “It’s All Connected” series, I asked around for recommendations for who to interview about race and gender.  Which person in Seattle has live, breathed, and worked at this intersection?  I got one fantastic recommendation:

Meet Patricia Hayden. 

Patricia Hayden, used with permission

Patricia Hayden, used with permission

Patricia was born and raised in Seattle, and has worked for over 40 years in the Seattle Central District Community, 30 of those years at the YWCA where she is now a Senior Director. Patricia has also served in a professional or volunteer capacity for Central District organizations such as Campfire Girls, First AME Church, Central Area Senior Center, Central Area Federation and Cherry Heights.

“When I think of accomplishments around the intersection of race and gender equality, I know two things. First, the community most affected by racialized gender inequality is one in which you must dedicate your life to. Second, the work itself needs to be based in and led by the community we serve; the life we lead must be deeply a part of that community. I worked with my grandmother to help create a space at Campfire where the teachers for our girls of color were people of color from our community. I have many things that I have done in my career that I have been proud of, like creating African American Support Groups for our Domestic Violence Program at the YWCA and spearheading the YWCA Race and Social Justice Initiative. What I am most proud of is dedicating my life to the work that is still ongoing.”

Most days you can find her at the East Cherry YWCA branch, which, when it opened in 1919, “provided one of the few public meeting places for the African American community” in Seattle.  In the heart of the Central District, it still plays a strong role in that community today.

Let’s start with the basics.  Can you talk about how race and gender overlap?

I don’t think that you can really talk about gender equality without talking about racial equality.  Otherwise you leave out a whole sector of the population that is certainly affected by both.”

“Because of where we live and how race is constructed in this country…I’m not just seen as a woman.  I’m also seen as a black woman, which has certain racialized beliefs associated with being a black woman. Negative imagery of angry black women, or hypersexualized black women appear twice as often as positive images of black women. Any woman of color has been racialized, however, the racialization of black women has had the most disparate and oppressive outcomes.”

For example, try doing a google image search for “black woman.”  Here’s a snapshot of the first images that appear—many of them are hypersexualized, portraying women with very little or no clothing, and clearly stereotyped.  In contrast, try searching “white woman,” or even “white man.” 

Google image search for "black woman"

Google image search for "black woman"

You’ve also been on the City of Seattle’s Gender Equity in Pay Taskforce.   Have they considered this intersection?

Well, she explained, they’re still exploring this topic, but “you can see statistically” that there are “obvious disparities” in terms of median income, access to homes and jobs, and infant mortality for communities of color. In fact, she added, “most ‘isms’ are disproportionately, negatively impacted when you add the layer of race on top of that.”

When it comes to gender equality, there have been times when the women’s rights movements should have been more inclusive with women of color.  In fact, they still can.  One recent example is the “Lean In” book and movement by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, which I love in part, but struggle with the lack of inclusion.  What are your thoughts on this?

“… there was certainly some tension there, because what is liberating in a community with white women may look a little different than what is liberating within a community of color. White women were already given privilege because of their race, so their battle with feminism was to gain political and increased economic gain. Women of color, especially black women, had to still contend with being dehumanized because of their race and their gender, so because the playing field wasn’t equal, the results from the feminist movement were not equal. For example, their economic status was very different because of their race. They, nor were their spouses, allowed to own a home, or land and could not gain equity or savings.”

Seattle’s Economic Opportunity Institute adds to this in their article “To end the gender wage gap, we must look at race too.”

So, we have a lot of learning and work to do together as a feminist movement.  But I think we can do it.  What are some ways you think we can improve?

To be continued next week, when we’ll look at gender in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and how the intersection of race and gender look in our daily lives.

Take action:  

  • If you care about either racial equity and/or gender equity, learn about the movement you’re less familiar with. Talk about inclusiveness with the organizations you support, even though it might be uncomfortable.  Don’t assume inclusiveness will happen automatically, because it won’t.
  • Attend the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism, the last Friday of April each year. 
  • Sign (and act on!) the “Charleston Imperative” mentioned above. 

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