African American Women struggles in the Workforce
Although African American women have made some progress in attaining higher status positions, the majority were forced into menial, poor paying jobs. The workforce is not a place in which African American women can hope to prevail and easily succeed. Racial and sexual discrimination still occurs today. Remember, the inequalities placed on African American women in the workforce are not new. Historically, African American women have worked outside the home since their origin in America. They have worked as laborers, domestics, beauticians, school teachers, nurses, and much less often as doctors and lawyers. Institutional racism imposed on the African American women economically, occupationally, psychologically, and physically as a way of maintaining the status quo, was that of a dominant white society. The experience of African American women in the workplace can be characterized as one of economic and sexual exploitation. In the beginning, the major threat for African American women was the disruption of the family through the sale of her family members. To protect her family she used whatever means necessary.
Generally, African American women are the subject of most discussions, when there is a debate about workforce, public policy and African American families. In the memoir of America, formal public policies and established racism have acted in cycles to force many African American families to develop alternatives to the traditional American nuclear family structure. During slavery, the government ignored and/or promoted a system in which marriage and family among slaves had no legal status. Professor Orlando Patterson noted, “all slavery involves what he calls “natal alienation,” the deprivation of rights or claims of birth, or claims on or obligations to parents, and of connection to living blood relations, ancestors or descendants.1”
The very idea of what constitutes a family was manipulated through a race to serve the slave masters’ economic interests. By such a rule, slave owners owned as slaves their own children whom they conceived through African American slave women. The institution of slavery had a profound effect on the structure of African American families. One consequence was the development of the single mother family. The origin of such families was by the white male sexual exploitation of female slaves, and the breakup of slave families along with “the sale of the husband/father”.
Decades after slavery, African American single mother families continued to be formed. A variety of factors contributed to the perpetuation of this phenomenon. Hard economic times, the husbands died or were killed, leaving the women moving from place to place in search of work. All help to contribute to the demise of the African American family. It was not until World War II that African American women begin to emerge as recognizable entities in the workplace. Women across all cultural and age lines were summoned to work in the factories that were once operated by men. These factories produced equipment and supplies needed for every branch of the military in the United States. The need was so great that the United States government created a campaign using a fictional character called Rosie the Riveter to lure women into working. From 1940-1945, the female labor force grew by 50%, and female employment in the defense industries grew by 462%. As a result, the role of women in the workforce changed for both African American and white women. American cultural attitudes shifted, making it acceptable for all women to work, where previously it had been taboo. African American women along with white women were trained to sew in massive factories that made uniforms and boots for soldiers. They manufactured weapons and ammunition as well as operated heavy equipment. In addition women were a vital part of the workforce during this chaotic period in American history, and...
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