Serena Williams is right about the pay gap for black women – but we need radical change

Black capitalism is coming and I can understand why. Monday was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day in the US. The most shocking figure that I plucked out of the mess of hashtags and outraged memes was that the average American man could go on holiday for seven months and still earn the same as the average African American woman who works all year. Grim.

Despite being one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, Serena Williams wrote an essay for Fortune magazine illustrating her thoughts on the matter. “Today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America,” she wrote. “If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.”

There was a muted response to the equal pay day from black women in the UK, as seen by the reaction to the BBC’s recent revelations on pay: little attention was paid to the fact that there were just 11 black or minority ethnic people on the list of 96 stars earning more than £150,000. There needs to be more dialogue surrounding the fact that BME Brits are struggling to close the ethnic and gender pay gap.

Serena Williams: supports equal pay for black women. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA

In the UK, what the TUC called the “massive pay gap” for black people widens even as we achieve more qualifications. According to the Fawcett Society, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women see the biggest overall gender pay gap, at 26%, to white British men, while black African women experience the largest full-time gender pay gap, at 19.6%. But while black African women have seen virtually no progress since the 1990s, black Caribbean and Indian women experience a smaller pay gap than white British women, despite higher unemployment rates.

Our situation is very different from that in the US, but the root causes are still the same: deep inequalities, embedded by our historical colonisation, and everyday racism combine to create a toxic environment for many black women to progress economically. However, while I understand why black capitalism is such a potent idea, a more radical solution would be to address the social disenfranchisement we face in a different way.

Activist Fred Hampton said it best in his speech Power Anywhere Where There’s People, read shortly before he was murdered in 1969: “We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism … anybody who comes into the community to make profit off the people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist.”

Rather than bringing up our wages to match the white man’s, especially in a country such as the UK, where the gaps between the richest and poorest are so stark, we need to be looking for a more equal type of equality.

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