By Jeffrey Dominguez
Capitalism is built on the exploitation of labor. It wouldn’t be capitalism if a private owner did not make a higher rate of profit than the worker who sells their labor. It simply wouldn’t be good business for the owner if their labor was compensated for what it is actually worth. This would mean actually having to pay you more for your work, bringing their profits down.
Instead, we are seemingly coerced to sell our labor for the mere minimum wage, at times only to avoid starvation or homelessness. If this all comes as a surprise to you, I suggest revisiting a dictionary for some clarification on the word capitalism.
However, I am not writing this to simply smash the merits of our economic system. Believe it or not, there is quite a bit of good that emerges from this kind of exploitation. I mean could you imagine a world without Apple products or Walmart? Probably not. Nevertheless, there is something terribly disturbing about such a system.
I wish I could say that this was a type of oppressive veil that affects us all equally, but the truth is that some of us possess a greater privilege over others in such a system. I mean there’s no hiding the substantial difference in the average wages (or earnings) that women make compared to men. Sadly, it has always been the norm.
What surprises me the most is how often the combined effects of race and gender are overlooked when discussing such disparities. If we accept that our labor system is rigged to profit private owners, and in that structure a gender pay gap exists, it’s not hard at all to see how women of color suffer the most exploitation.
The American Association of University Women published a report of women’s median annual earnings compared to men. It was found that Asian-American and white women had higher pay than African-American and Latina women. African-American women are paid 64 percent in comparison to white men, whereas Latina women are paid only 53 percent of what white men are paid. Does that mean that mean that capitalism has failed people of color? Some would be quick to say no, capitalism encourages “competition” and “innovation.” Surely to them, women of color will eventually find a way to outcompete the white majority and rise from their circumstances.
I don’t think that exploitation works that way, and whoever truly believes such a thing has a repulsive way of romanticizing oppression. Policies must be put into place to eliminate the gender wage gap to guarantee that equal work earns equal pay.
Some would argue that these women are lucky to even have jobs in the first place. However, imagine if your boss paid out all employees at the end of their shift. You, a Latina, find yourself next to a white male co-worker. Both of you have worked the same amount of hours today, doing the same exact labor. When your boss approaches, he gives your co-worker a check for $66, then turns to you and gives you a check for $35 a little over half of what he made. Would you still be happy because at least you “have a job”?
As a group, women of color make less than white females. This means that they need to work just a little bit longer to catch up to the pay of white women, and a whole lot longer (maybe even harder) to earn that of white men. This is the equivalent of what can be called “double discrimination” (discrimination on the basis of race and gender) which is being perpetuated by our very own socioeconomic institutions.
By no means am I advocating for a communist regime. However, we should be skeptical of our capitalist values, and just like any other belief, adjust when needed. Bridging the pay gap will require government commitment to passing and enforcing equal pay legislation. Pressure legislators to implement an objective comparison for equal pay based on skills, work ethic and merit, not merely gender.
We can’t overlook statements made by white male or female presidential candidates. Just as pay inequity is not only centered on white, cisgender women, there are plenty more issues that require cross cultural input. It seems as though we are only important when election season is around, or one of us is on the front page for a shooting (or for looting). We are not simply a ticket to the White House; people of color are just as important as everyone else in policymaking. Go out and make that known.
Jeffrey Dominguez studies political science. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @AliSchultzzz.