Posts Tagged ‘WOMDAT’

The State of the Union & Labor: Race and Gender

Monday, August 26th, 2013

(part 2 of 4)

Steve Visits the 2nd March on Washington

I must confess: as a middle-aged, white man I feel woefully inadequate writing on the subject of work/employment and how they are impacted by race and gender.  I’m questioning why I feel so compelled to write about race and gender as one blog rather than two.  What right do I have to think that I have something meaningful to offer? 

In the midst of my questioning, Alan Van Capelle, former executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda (NY) came to mind. Speaking back in 2005 about the importance of working with straight allies and straight clergy, he said, “If it’s just LGBT people talking and organizing, then we lose.”  I also think of my seminary classes with Dr. Delores Williams.  She introduced me to “Womanist Theology” and got me looking down the road of intersectional justice issues.  I remembered discovering how my people, those raised with a White-Oriented Male-Dominated Approach to Theology (the WOMDATs as I called us back then) had attempted to divide and conquer marginalized people to in a seeming attempt slow the progress of justice movements and limit the gains their social achievements.  Dr. Williams introduced me to thinkers like Paula Giddings (through When and Where I Enter – I highly recommend), Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; and, Angela Davis’s Women, Race and Class

I need to write on the topic of Labor, Race and Gender simply because we have reached a point in the movement for human dignity and rights that depends on none of us being silent or separated from one another, neither because of our privileges and/or marginalization. Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly put it, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Some seem to think that we are living in a post-civil rights or post-racism era but I believe they are far from informed.  While we have made significant strides in some areas over the past 150+ years, all anyone has to do is keep up with the current trends in voting rights suppression laws, unemployment statistics, racial profiling, mass incarceration issues and reports from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (monitoring hate groups) to know we are not past racism and institutionalized prejudice.  In fact, in June of 2005, the American Sociological Association (ASA) published a series on this very matter, entitled: “Race, Ethnicity, and the American Labor Market: What’s at Work?”  Some of their conclusions were quite telling about how deeply our institutional racism and sexism may run  and how the changes in work climate and the type of economy we are developing may be making institutionalized workplace bias even more covert and subjective than ever –

1)       “Occupational data are another indicator of racial and ethnic labor market disparities. One-third of white men and nearly one-half of Asian men are employed in managerial, professional, and related occupations, compared with one-fifth of African American men and one-seventh of Hispanic men. Conversely, more than one-quarter of both African American and Hispanic men hold jobs in production, transportation, and material moving occupations, compared with less than one-fifth of white men and less than one-seventh of Asian men. A disproportionately high percentage of African American and Hispanic women, compared with white and Asian women, are employed in service occupations such as food preparation, cleaning, and personal care. These occupations are often in work environments characterized by poor pay, few benefits, and little career mobility.” This is often referred to in this article as “occupational segregation.”

2)       “According to sociological research, occupational segregation helps explain persistent wage gaps between whites and both African Americans and Hispanics, especially for women.”  If you don’t think that pay equality and gender is still an issue, please read the latest case dealing with pay equality (and don’t miss tall the recent cases in the box on the right) that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEO) is fighting.

3)       “Sociological research documents a wide range of processes through which employers sort and rank workers, and workers jockey for positions in the labor market. For employers, the result is a ‘job queue,’ a ranking of workers from perceived best to perceived worst… In today’s service-based economy, employers often emphasize a preference for ‘soft skills’ (an array of employee characteristics that are subjectively evaluated by employers. They include how individuals look and dress and their manner of speaking; whether they are perceived to be team players; perceived motivation, cheerfulness, and interpersonal skills; and perceived ability to represent the organization), creating potential for bias in workplace decisions.” 

Last Friday, while in the midst of the 50th Anniversary events of the March on Washington, I attended a “town hall meeting” on race and poverty sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.  One speaker in particular stood out for me: Darnell L. Moore.  He quoted statistics from memory: “a poverty rate in the US of 15%, meaning 46.2 million people (or 1 in 7) live in poverty. Of those, 20.4% are now living in what is being termed “deep poverty”.  More than one-fourth of all Black people are unemployed or underemployed.  60% of Black women who are elderly are living in poverty.  Of the 27.6% of Black people who are poor, there are 5 million more Black women than men who are in poverty” (remember wage inequality) “and if you are Black and Gay or Lesbian, you run an even higher risk of being in poverty.  Keep in mind that 40% of all homeless individuals now are LGBT youth… The problem is that we are facing multi-dimensional, intersectional issues and trying to deal with them with a monolithic solution.”  Moore then challenged us, his audience, to grow our work together and not let the issues of human rights and dignity to be separated out.  “It’s not just about asking, ‘whose feet are situated on our necks?’  It’s also about asking, ‘whose necks are your feet situated on?’”  In a Huffington Post blog Moore has said, “single-variable politics and movement work solely focused on one issue will always result in limited gains.”

The playing field has changed, but it needs to be completely transformed.  No longer can we waste time and energy fighting over which disenfranchised group gets to get a piece of the WOMDAT pie first.  Now, it’s about all of us together, figuring out what kind of new economic, inclusive, equal opportunity pie we all going to make instead! Darnell Moore gave me hope on Friday! 

On Saturday, as I watched different groups commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, I had even greater hope!  That hope came from the labor movement, who like 1963, showed up in force.  It came from women and people of all different hues taking center stage like never before to advocate for the rights of all.  It came from a list of problems that seem almost overwhelming at times, but when you see all the people who are working and willing to see their issue and your issue as inter-dependant, you begin to realize this can really happen!  I also found hope in an amazingly articulate, courageous and limitless 9 year old named Asean Johnson. 

I’ll share more about Asean’s dream in the next blog on children and how their exploitation, access to food security and affordable quality education are crucial for the future of our society.

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Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.

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