It's a long march to equality for women of color

The women behind the Women's March on Washington
The women behind the Women's March on Washington

It wasn't until college that I officially embraced feminism. I minored in women's studies, read Ms. magazine, had a poster of Frida Kahlo on my dorm room wall and joined a campus women's group.

At the time, it was mostly educated, white women who were the dominant voices in the national discussion around women's rights. Being a young Latina feminist was rare. Finding other brown and black women who called themselves feminists was even rarer.

So when I got to the women's march on Washington last Saturday I was heartened to see women (and men) from many backgrounds turning out to protest and yes, wearing pink pussy hats. Three of the four national co-chairs for the march were women of color and a diverse list of speakers took to the stage.

Collectively, the millions of people marching in the streets around the world represented a kum ba yah moment of dissent against the policies of incoming President Donald Trump. It felt like a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before women of color reach full parity with white women.

Related: Women of color on what's at stake under President Trump

While women of color are far from a monolithic group, many of us have had similar experiences with sexism and racism -- both subtle and overt -- that has made it harder for us to achieve the American Dream. Women of color continue to be paid less than white women, are less likely to be married than white women and are less likely to hold top positions than white women. We are also disproportionately impacted by issues like criminal justice, reproductive health and immigration - issues that are at the center of this new presidential administration.

"Women of color suffer from triple oppression: race, economy and gender," said Rosa Clemente a community organizer and a 2008 vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. "If white women are going to be part of the work, they're going to have to find a way to completely support women of color."

womens march race

To do this, Mary Hooks, the co-director of Southerners on New Ground, an activist group, said white women will have to make a deliberate attempt to support black women and other women of color and the issues that impact them the most like criminal justice reform, immigration and LGBTQ rights. "How will they leverage their roles, their privilege in order to advance those causes?" Hooks said. "White women have to be willing to take some marching orders."

Women of color have reason to be suspicious of white women. Slightly over half of them voted for Trump compared to 25% of Latinas and 4% of black women, according to CNN exit polls.

Related: The steep cost of incarceration on women of color

"African-American women are the most loyal voting bloc known and they are not always taken care of," said Danyelle Solomon, the Director of Progress 2050 initiative at the Center for American Progress, a left leaning think tank.

Many women of color are fearful that this new administration will repeal or restrict reproductive rights or fail to enforce non-discriminatory policies and protections - issues that affect all women but have a disproportionate impact on non-white, less wealthy women.

Others are concerned about the rise of racism and misogyny, particularly when some of America's most visible black women, including actress Leslie Jones and first lady Michelle Obama, have been publicly harassed with racial epithets.

The film "Hidden Figures" shows us many examples of the prejudices that black women scientists working at NASA faced in the 1960s - from race specific bathrooms and offices to the hostilities they experienced working with whites. Segregated offices may be a thing of the past, but many women of color today know what it feels like to be ignored and undermined.

Whether it's the emails that go unanswered, the flimsy reasons for why you didn't get the raise or the promotion (or why you are paid less to begin with), the assumption that you cannot be fair and level headed because of your race or gender, or the feeling of being "the only" woman or person of color in a room. Some of these experiences are normal parts of life but in other cases they represent something more insidious.

Related: Wage gap between blacks and whites is worst in nearly 40 years

For many of us, it still seems like "having it all" is a concept created by white women, for white women.

When I was at the march, I saw young women of color who were energized and excited. Two of them screamed louder for feminist and activist Angela Davis than they did for Alicia Keys.

One young black woman carried a sign that said "My feminism doesn't exist without my blackness", while a young Latina protestor had a sign in Spanish that said "Not saints, not whores, just women." Older, professional women of color I met that weekend spoke of being "exhausted" and "walking a tightrope" and navigating the subtle slights they face everyday.

In the next few decades, women of color will be the majority of all women in the country.

Equality and parity won't happen overnight, but the conversation is one that cannot be ignored.

Personal Finance


CNNMoney Sponsors