The Soapbox: As Serena Williams Knows, The Race-Based Wage Gap Is No Joke

White feminists, are we ready to talk about the race pay gap now? I know that the gender wage gap is an issue of upmost importance, but us women of color are seriously over that conversation when it refuses to address the implications of race in the equation. I’ve already made the case that closing the gender-based wage gap is a white feminist issue, seeing as women of color are out-earned by both men and our white “sisters” – so, whatever happened to intersectionality?

To illustrate the reason why Black women in particular are seriously over the lack of feminist attention being given to the race pay gap, here is a case study: Serena Williams, who is ranked the number one women’s singles tennis player and reigning champion of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, WTA Tour Championships and Olympic women’s singles and doubles, somehow is not the best paid women in tennis. Maria Sharapova, the green-eyed, blonde haired Russian and No.2 seed, is.

The London School of Marketing released its list of the most marketable sports stars, which (boo patriarchy) only had two women on its Top 20: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. Serena may have whooped Sharapova’s behind in 18 of their last 20 matches, nevertheless Sharapova is worth $5 million more than Serena ($29 million compared to $24 million). In an interview with the New York Times, Serena pointedly expressed the reason for that discrepancy: RACISM.

‘‘If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice.’’

She also went on to claim she can’t argue that she should be higher on the list because she won more and that “there is enough at the table for everyone.” Well, I guess she can’t. But she most certainly shouldn’t have to. In a world that espouses “meritocracy” and claims the harder you work, the more successful you will be, should the hardest working, most successful woman in tennis not be compensated equal to her efforts? Only when you are white.

When tennis great Chris Evert was asked by the New York Times reporter, Claudia Rankine, about the obvious ridiculousness (and blatant racism) displayed by the earning inequality, she responded, “Maria was very aware of business and becoming a businesswoman at a much younger stage,’’ adding, ‘‘She works hard.”

Luckily, Rankine did not let Evert off with that bullshit response. She pointed to the success of Eugenie Bouchard, a tall, blond Canadian who is basically still an unknown name in the sport, but somehow has been named the world’s most marketable athlete by SportsPro, a British magazine.

“Well, there you have it,” Chris Evert responded with a laugh.

Yup. The race-based pay gap is still a joke to many white women, perhaps because many of them are laughing their way to the bank and could care less about the inequality women of color face. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily fault a single individual for participating in a sexist or racist society – we all do, to some extent. But should we not be expected to speak out against injustice at some point? Demand more from society? Especially if equality is truly the goal?

Of course Chris Evert does not represent the feelings or opinions of all white women. She is merely one woman who failed to speak the truth in a moment when her voice could’ve lent credibility to the constant struggle and discrimination women like Serena Williams face. Nevertheless, after some years of writing online and becoming increasingly aware of and sensitive to white female opinions, I am almost certain even this piece will be rejected by most; the premise made secondary to some grammatical error or claims that this “has nothing to do with race” in the first place. Then what, precisely, is the reason for the pay gap that exists between women of color and white women? Why, despite Serena Williams’s years of hard work and dedication, is a white, blonde girl with half of the success out-earning her? And when will the broader feminist movement have the gumption to address these issues?

It may surprise white women to learn that the day when the race wage gap ceases to be a joke to them, gender-based gaps will also be taken much more seriously. Think about it: then women — all women — will truly pose a united, intimidating front, an unstoppable force that will not merely ask for, but demand equality for all.

[NY Times]