Serena Williams has called on black women to demand equal pay, in a blistering personal essay highlighting the combined race and gender pay gap.
In the piece, published by Fortune, the tennis star says that black women in the US make 63 cents for every dollar a man makes. As a result, women of colour “have to work – on average – eight months longer to earn the same as their male counterparts do in one year”.
Williams also calls attention the wage disparity that exists between black women and white women, stating that black women in the US earn 17% less than their white female counterparts.
31 July was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day in the US, and saw support from high-profile women including musician and actress Janelle Monáe, film director Ava DuVernay, California senator Kamala Harris and Insecure star Issa Rae. Sheryl Sandberg and Chelsea Clinton have also spoken out in support of the initiative.
In her essay, Williams says that she understands the struggles many black women face, because of the discrimination she has personally experienced based on her gender and skin colour.
“Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the colour of my skin,” writes Williams. “In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out.”
The 23-times grand slam winner describes being “treated unfairly”, including being “disrespected by my male colleagues and – in the most painful times – [being] the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court”.
Williams has an estimated net worth of $170million (£130m), but says that her own financial success does not stop her from being concerned about “the other 24 million black women in America”.
In fact, she says she is determined to use her platform to draw attention to injustice, and to speak out for women who may be less able to do so.
“The cycles of poverty, discrimination and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles,” she says.
Part of the problem, says Williams, is that “black women have been conditioned to think they are less than” through “decades of systematic oppression”.
“Most black women across our country do not have the same support that I did, and so they often don’t speak out about what is just, fair and appropriate in the workplace,” she writes. “When they do, they are often punished for it.”
Williams has spoken out against the pay gap in the past, and has also faced racism and sexism throughout her career. In 2017 alone, she has been the subject of offensive comments by retired tennis players John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase.
If the pay gap affecting black women is to close, says Williams, people of all genders and races will have to work for change.
“Changing the status quo will take dedicated action, legislation, employer recognition, and courage for employees to demand more,” she writes. “In short, it’s going to take all of us.”
Speaking directly to black women, Williams urges: “Be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you.
“Most of all, know that you’re worth it,” she continues. “It can take a long time to realise that. It took me a long time to realise it. But we are all worth it. I’ve long said, ‘You have to believe in yourself when no one else does’.
“Let’s get back those 37 cents.”
You can read the full essay here.
Main image: Rex Features