Comparing The Daily Lives Of African American Women In The 1940S And Today Comparing the Daily Lives of African American Women in the 1940s and Today For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in America, Black women were an after-thought in our nation’s history. They were the mammies and maids, the cooks and caregivers, the universal shoulder to cry on in times of trouble. Often overlooked and undervalued, Black women were just .. there. African American women have come a long way.
In the 1940s, women were treated as second-class citizens and Blacks faced discrimination everywhere they looked. They were not taught to be proud of being Black (Dressier, 1985). They had a hard time going to school. Black children were not taught Black history. African Americans were not able to have a sense of pride about themselves or their culture (Farley & Allen, 1987).
In this paper, I will try to describe and compare the lives of African American women around the time of World War II, a period of great change in the U.S., with their lives today. Due to the enormity of this subject, I am limiting my scope to the discrimination and the resulting economic hardships African American women in particular have endured. Discrimination in Daily Life In 1940, it was very difficult for Blacks to get a job due to discrimination. Naomi Craig, an African American and former World War II defense plant worker, describes that when she graduated from high school, she could not get a job. “I went to the offices of the different insurance companies. I was a crackerjack stenographer, and I was smart, but I was colored.
When I would go down for a job, the girl in the office would look at me and then call for the employer. He’d come out; he’d say, ‘Uh, uh Miss Jennings, um, yes, well the job is filled.’ I’d go home and call right back. ‘Is there a position open as a secretary in your office?’ ‘Yes there is.’ By my voice, he didn’t know that I was colored because I spoke the same as anybody else. So I said, ‘I was just down there.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Oh were you the Miss Jennings that was down here?’ I said, ‘Yes, I was.’ He said, ‘Oh, well one of the girls..’ I said, ‘You said the job was open.’ He said, ‘Well, one of the girls has decided that she’s going to take it.’ And this was the run-around that I got” (Dressier, 1985). “When we first worked there was no such thing, for instance, as a coffee break. And there was no such thing as leaving at five o’clock if there was still work to do.
I stayed many a night until six o’clock or two o’clock on a Saturday because the work had to be done. You didn’t get paid for that. There was no such thing as overtime. We were very used to long hours. I was used to working two nights a week until ten o’clock and every other weekend.
And if I didn’t work the full weekend, I would work Saturday one week and Sunday another week. So there was no such thing as a five-day week. In those days as soon as a woman married, she lost her job (Dressier, 1985).” “When I went to the school department where they were giving out jobs to help people they said to me, ‘Naomi Jennings, you’ve done very well, haven’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I have.’ She said, ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we don’t have any jobs for you as a secretary or a stenographer.’ Because these jobs were going to white girls. I said, ‘There’s nothing for me?’ She said, ‘I have a little job for you taking care of these twins if you want to take that.’ I said, ‘No, thank you.’ And I went out. You know I was crying.
I cried all the way home. I got home and I said to my mother, ‘I’m never going to be able to work.’ She said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because they’re only giving out jobs to white people.’ She said, ‘That shouldn’t be.’ I said, ‘it shouldn’t be, but it is’ (Dressier, 1985).” When the war came, women went to work for the first time in factories and driving trucks. If a delivery truck came to your house, a woman would be driving it. Women were postmen and garbage workers. They did those jobs because all the available young men were in the service (Editorial, 2000).
“We had a terrible time buying a house. Oh yes we did, because we were Black. We went to buy a house and they said, ‘Well, uh.’ When my husband came home, he just got home from the service, and they said we couldn’t get a mortgage. You weren’t shown houses in the sections you wanted to buy. They would take you over to a place that had all rundown houses.
When they asked me on the telephone, ‘Would you like to see a house?’ I would say, ‘ Well certainly.’ And we would meet at the house. And I would go there and his face would fall because I would be a Black woman. Talking over the telephone, he wouldn’t know.” (Dressier, 1985). Fannie Lou married Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1944, and the two settled on the Marlow plantation outside Ruleville, Mississippi. She found that, as a black worker, she was frequently treated as less than human. Ms.
Hamer said, “When I was cleaning the boss’s house .. his daughter came up to me and said ‘You don’t have to clean this room too good… It’s just Old Honey’s.’ Old Honey was the dog. I couldn’t get over the dog having a bathroom when the owner wouldn’t even have the toilet fixed for us. But then, Negroes in Mississippi were treated worse than dogs (Halpern, 1990)”. Although Fannie Lou adopted four daughters, she always wanted children of her own.
Tragically, this basic right was denied to her. Like many poor women of color worldwide, a white doctor sterilized Fannie Lou Hamer without her permission. The experience underscored the lack of control she felt she had over her own life (Halpern, 1990). Salary and Workplace Opportunity In comparison to U.S. women as a whole, African American women are disproportionately at a greater risk of living in chronic poverty (Belle, 1990; McLoyd & Wilson, 1992).
Racism creates further obstacles for women of color to escape chronic poverty (Ulbrich, Warheit, & Zimmerman, 1989) by limiting access to education, employment, and the attainment of goods and services (Halpern, 1990; McLoyd & Wilson, 1992). However, it is also a mistake to view ethnicity as merely a burden. African Americans have learned ways to survive racism and poverty through extended family networks, a strong church, and personal toughness (Dressier, 1985; Taylor & Roberts, 1995). If women received the same pay as men for comparable work, the incidence of U.S. poverty would drop dramatically, according to a new study. As it is, women, on average, lose more than $4,000 a year in wages due to lower pay scales (Sokoloff, 1999).
The study, jointly released February 24, 2000 by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, states: If married women were paid the same as comparable men, their family incomes would rise by nearly 6 percent, and their families’ poverty would drop from 2.1 percent to 0.8 percent (Sokoloff, 1999). If single working mothers earned the same as comparable men, their family incomes would increase by nearly 17 percent. Their poverty rates would be halved, from 25.3 percent to 12.6 percent. If single women were paid comparably, their incomes would rise by 13.4 percent, and their poverty rates would be reduced from 6.3 percent to 1 percent (Sokoloff, 1999). Other analysis shows that women who work full-time are paid only 74 cents for every dollar men earn – $148 less each week. Women of color who work full-time earn only 64 cents for every male dollar – $210 less per week (Darity & Myers, 1998). Income inequality issues are not new, but there is a renewed revival of concern.
In a 1997 study, “Ask a Working Woman,” one third of all women and half of all African American women told AFL-CIO researchers they do not have equal pay in their jobs. This year, in his State of the Union address, President Clinton declared his support for strengthening equal-pay enforcement (Darity & Myers, 2000). Even where the comparable pay news is good it is bad. In Washington, women earn 97 percent of what men make, but minority men in the nation’s capital receive very low wages. Unequal pay for women is worst in Michigan, Louisiana, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, where women earn only 70 percent of comparable men’s pay.
Women of color fare worse, earning less than 60 percent of men’s rates, in Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming (Taylor & Roberts, 1995). The best states – comparably speaking – for women are Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island – but even there women earn only 80 percent of the comparable male wage (Taylor & Roberts, 1995). Increased postwar opportunities for women allowed Black women to leave domestic work for white-collar jobs in the typically female-dominated professions such as social work, nursing, teaching, and library science. During the period of 1960 to the early 1980s, African American women increased their representation in white-collar professional jobs from 0.6 to 2.2%, African American men went from 0.7 to 1.9% and White women went from 13 to 31% (Sokoloff, 1999). These statistics clearly show that while Black women more than tripled their participation in the professions, their beginning point was extremely low. The reality of African American women’s experiences in the work force is that they continue to work in low-paying, gender identified jobs. Although some progress has been made in increasing Black women’s participation into the higher paid professional job areas, the vast majority of these women occupy unenviable job positions. At the end of the 19th century the majority of Black women in the work force were engaged in domestic work.
Almost 100 years later, there are still more African American women employed as domestic workers than there are African American women professionals (Farley & Allen, 1987). With equal education and employment, Black women’s wages have been lower than White men’s and White women’s. Men in “female-dominated” jobs – clerical workers, cashiers, librarians, and childcare – suffer the same wage penalties as women, the report stated (Hess, Markson, & Stein, 1992). Theoretical Perspective African Americans have suffered from many types of oppression. Discrimination in housing via restrictive covenants and redlining, employment discrimination in hiring and by harassment on the job, and prejudice at work and in their daily life. Whites practiced labeling by viewing all actions of African Americans with suspicion.
Of course, African American women suffer from double jeopardy by being both African American and female (Schaefer, 2000). Only in the last sixty years has the federal government worked to end discrimination. New laws such as the 1968 Civil Rights Act and Linda Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas stating that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Intercession by the Executive branch such as President Truman’s order to desegregate the military.
Also Congressional action such as the repeal of the 24th Amendment outlawing the poll tax that had long prevented Blacks from voting (Schaefer, 2000). Natural Beauty The acceptance of the naturalness and beauty of blackness is now firmly rooted in Black popular culture. For African peoples the adornment and beautification of the hair and body is an essential cultural component. In traditional African societies, cosmetic modification has been ritualized. It can be part of a social occasion or may symbolize a stage of development from childhood to maturity, or indicate marital status or the group to which you belong.
The difficulty in accepting this cultural leg …