The triple weight of being Black, American, and a woman

Sara Lomax-Reese is shown with her mother

Sara Lomax-Reese is shown with her mother, Beverly Lomax, who she says instilled in her a sense of pride and love of self. (Image courtesy of Laura Elam)

In observation of Women’s History Month and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., NewCORE and PECO hosted a midday panel discussion on March 15 about the impact of women on the civil rights movement and its impact on them. Sara Lomax-Reese, who moderated the panel, wrote this essay about living at the intersection of Black, American, and female identity.

W.E.B. DuBois once famously framed the duality of being Black and American as a “two-ness” or “double consciousness.”  An American, a Negro,” he wrote, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Building on Dr. DuBois’s brilliant analysis, as we march through Women’s History Month — especially during this #MeToo moment — I have been reflecting on what it is to be a Black American woman. It’s there where we discover a kind of “three-ness” or triple-consciousness, an existence that informs how we as Black women navigate this world and our lives.

This question has really piqued my interest in the wake of a report out last week from the Women in Media Center, titled “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018.” The authors found that, while women are more than half the U.S. population, and people of color nearly 40 percent, women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff.

That number shrinks even further when you look specifically at African-American women in the media.

As I studied the report, I began considering: What does my Black woman-ness mean in the context of leading WURD, the only Black-owned talk radio station in Pennsylvania, and one of only three in the country?

To be honest, at times this three-ness has felt like a weight — having to navigate racism, sexism, implicit bias, and all the limitations that come when you’re placed in these tiny little boxes, often ignored or underestimated and told to wait your turn.  

Black women, however, have never been shy about using our voice, our pen, our bodies, and our minds to get things done. This month we celebrate Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward, Oprah Winfrey, Ava Duvernay — sheroes past and present, leading in various ways, steadily moving our people forward. We are undaunted by the tasks we confront.  

Our foremothers paved this path with sweat, tears, love, patience, determination, and an unfailing faith in the unseen, unheard, and unknown. I especially want to give honor to my mother, Beverly Lomax, who plowed seeds of excellence and confidence and power into me from my earliest days. She is a quiet, strong, grounded woman who is not afraid of silence or stillness. She is the original earth mother who raised six Black children in an almost all-white community during the 1970s. She and my father believed that Black is beautiful and instilled in us a sense of pride and love of self.

They modeled for me what it is to speak truth to power: sometimes quietly, sometimes with defiance. Sometimes through action — but always with integrity.

This power, through a combination of resilient word and action, explains why WURD is unique. It’s not just that we are a Black-woman led organization in a media world where there are so few Black women in positions of power. But we are a part of powerful legacy that extends far beyond our 15 years on the radio dial.

We are an independent Black-owned media company in a marketplace where national conglomerates dominate. In fact, 90 percent of all mass media is owned by just six companies. We are a talk radio station with original live, local programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every weekday — at a time when most radio stations are populated with nationally syndicated shows and repetitive playlists. We are an actual business that employs and trains journalists, producers, and marketers of color so they can learn and grow in their professions. But most importantly, we provide our community a place where our full humanity is on full display every day. We create spaces on air, online, in social media, and through community events where our people can gather and speak and be heard, sharing our individual and collective experiences.

All of this is absolutely essential given the world we have inherited. We are watching — in real time — as America retracts, tumbling back in time to a pre-1968 version of itself.

But this is 2018, an auspicious year on many fronts: WURD is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Dr. DuBois’ 150th birthday is being marked by The Year of W.E.B. DuBois, spearheaded by Dr. Tony Monteiro. This year marks Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Kerner Commission report, which detailed the devastating effects of centuries of racism and white supremacy on the Black community.

Deeply disturbing is the reality that, in 2018, Black people still suffer the brunt of systemic racism and inequality. Comparing the Kerner Commission report to today’s reality, it is shocking how far we haven’t come. In a must-read follow-up briefing by the Economic Policy Institute, titled 50 years after the Kerner Commission,” researchers Valerie Wilson, Janelle Jones (who appeared on WURD to discuss it), and John Schmitt observed that:

  • “The unemployment rate for African Americans in 2017 (the last full year of data) was 7.5 percent, 0.8 percentage points higher than it was in 1968 (6.7 percent). The unemployment rate for whites was 3.8 percent in 2017 and 3.2 percent in 1968.
  • “In 2015, the Black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968, and trailing a full 30 points behind the white homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period.
  • “The share of African-Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 (604 of every 100,000 in the total population) and 2016 (1,730 per 100,000). In 1968, African-Americans were about 5.4 times as likely as whites to be in prison or jail. Today, African-Americans are 6.4 times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.”

Adding gender into the mix, the picture is even more disturbing. A new report by The Cook Center and Insight Center for Community Economic Development at Duke University, “Women Race and Wealth,” acknowledges the vast pay gap between men and women. And when you factor in race, it’s even more devastating:

Black women bring home 63 cents (compared to 75 cents for white women) for every dollar a white man earns. This extends beyond income to deeply impact wealth … For single Black women ages 60 and older with a college degree, the median wealth level is $11,000 compared to a whopping median of $384,400 for their white counterparts, nearly 35 times the Black median. And, while married, college-educated Black women see greater gains, it is still half of what white women in the same category have accumulated.”

These facts around race and gender illuminate the need to honestly explore this triple consciousness — the unique experience of being a Black American woman. While we have always shared many of the concerns championed by the mainstream women’s movement — reproductive rights, sexual harassment, equal pay, and a host of others — we have never had the luxury of fighting a singular fight. Our lives have always existed at the intersection of race, class, and gender.  

The last election laid bare the distance and disconnect between Black and white women. What could be more blatant than 94 percent of African-American women voting for Hillary Clinton, and 52 percent of white women — the majority — voting for Donald Trump? While I still haven’t recovered from this betrayal, it is sadly consistent with a long history in this country that shows, for white women, race often eclipses gender (and sanity).

As I look through my personal and professional lens as a Black woman CEO, I see WURD as an important part of the solution to the challenges facing us in this moment. The media is extremely powerful. It shapes and perpetuates perceptions. It creates thought leaders and opinion makers. It holds the powerful accountable to the people. And when done well, it can unify our community — regardless of the double- or triple-consciousness that shapes our world view — to empower us to fight the constructs and institutions designed to contain, destroy, or silence us.

Whether we like everyone on the air or everything that is said is not the point. In today’s world, we need a place where the Black community can be strengthened and fortified. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo matters. And right now, WURD is the only place that allows us to speak each and every day about the issues that matter most to our community: in our own voice, in an interactive format that’s hyperlocal and in real time.

So, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, and honor all of the women who have paved this path for us, I invite you to continue to listen, call in, tweet, attend our events, and be an active part of this community. That, in my mind, is something worth protecting and preserving.

Sara Lomax-Reese is the president and general manager of WURD Radio, LLC, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station.

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