It was a Friday night, my friends and I were at a nice bar in Downtown Los Angeles. The weather was pleasant so we chose seating on the outside patio. We spoke about our future ambitions and how delicious the food was. As the waiter delivered our drinks, I couldn’t help but notice the two doors in front of us. The juxtaposition between the two doors was a representation of the status of women of color in this city.
Door #1 was nicely embellished with wooden carvings and a golden door handle. A bright light shined on top of every person coming in. The people coming in and out of that door were young, vibrant and excited to get the night started. Door #2 was a black metal security door. The light shining behind Door #2 was dim and showed only the silhouette of a woman on her feet hunched over the large stack of dishes my friends and I used and many more. A part of me wanted to be able to ignore the two doors and their contrasting representation of the livelihood of women of color vs. others in Los Angeles. I could not help but think about the silhouette of this woman. How long has she been on her feet for? On this Friday night, are her kids safe? Did her kids arrive from school to a vacant home because she is working late? Does she have a spouse to help look after the home?
Growing up in South Los Angeles and now living in Watts, I witness single mothers waking up early, dropping off their children at school and then heading over to work long hours. Many of the women I know within these neighborhoods resort to monetizing their home skills such as cooking, cleaning, and looking after children in order to provide for their own. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63 percent of women in the City of Los Angeles who are 25 years and older do not have a degree, whether it is an Associate’s or Bachelor’s. Within South Los Angeles alone, approximately 62 percent of women who are 25 years and older have less than a high school diploma. In addition, the 2016 Report on the Status of Women in Los Angeles County states that 40 percent of all single-mother families with children under the age of 18 years live in poverty. These statistics are not just numbers on a webpage, they are the harsh reality that I too often witness in my community.
Yet, despite these challenges, I have witnessed great resilience in women of color. My mother, an immigrant and single mother of three is a primary example of such resilience. In addition to working at my elementary school for over 20 years, she also worked on the weekends as a housekeeper, took care of an elderly woman, and even created handmade jewelry to sell. All of this, in order to ensure that we had a place to stay and food to eat. After getting laid off, she sought help from a local organization, went back to school, completed the necessary courses and transferred to a four-year university – and she’s still looking to do more. She proves that our circumstances must not define our future.
Prior to writing this blog, the experience at the bar led me to ask myself, “What door is meant for me?” As a college graduate with a full-time job, I have the privilege of entering and exiting through Door #1. But all the statistics and data on women of color from the neighborhoods I was raised in show that I’m supposed to stand behind Door #2.
We should not let these statistics dictate how we, as women of color, value ourselves and the paths we are supposed to follow. It is time to challenge both the perception and the box that people often place us into, and most importantly it is time to challenge the way we see ourselves.
So what can we do as a society to give women of color the opportunity to no longer stand behind Door #2?
- Empower them! Provide professional development and skills assessment to help women of color identify skills that are often overlooked;
- Work with them! Increase the accessibility and reliance of services within South Los Angeles and South East Los Angeles to work with women of color and their schedules;
- Inspire them! By connecting women to other women who came from similar backgrounds and are now defying the odds; and
- Start them young! Provide more self-empowering programs for young girls of color that helps them find value in pursuing a higher education.