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Opportunity Denied

Opportunity Denied: Limiting Black Women to Devalued Work

Enobong Hannah Branch
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Opportunity Denied
    Book Description:

    Blacks and Whites. Men and Women. Historically, each group has held very different types of jobs. The divide between these jobs was stark-clean or dirty, steady or inconsistent, skilled or unskilled. In such a rigidly segregated occupational landscape, race and gender radically limited labor opportunities, relegating Black women to the least desirable jobs.Opportunity Deniedis the first comprehensive look at changes in race, gender, and women's work across time, comparing the labor force experiences of Black women to White women, Black men and White men. Enobong Hannah Branch merges empirical data with rich historical detail, offering an original overview of the evolution of Black women's work.

    From free Black women in 1860 to Black women in 2008, the experience of discrimination in seeking and keeping a job has been determinedly constant. Branch focuses on occupational segregation before 1970 and situates the findings of contemporary studies in a broad historical context, illustrating how inequality can grow and become entrenched over time through the institution of work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5197-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    From 1860 to 1960, Black women’s work and the experience of discrimination in seeking and keeping work was doggedly constant. The common phrase “you are what you do” was particularly true during this 100-year period when there was near-perfect matching of devalued jobs to devalued workers. Not only did Blacks and Whites, men and women, hold very different jobs, but the divide between the types of jobs they held was stark—clean or dirty, steady or inconsistent, skilled or unskilled. In this rigidly divided occupational landscape, the hierarchical dynamics of race and gender intersected to significantly limit labor opportunities for...

  7. Chapter 1 Hierarchies of Preference at Work: The Need for an Intersectional Approach
    (pp. 8-25)

    W.E.B. Du Bois proclaimed in 1903 that “the problem of the Twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”¹ While this statement was prescient, Du Bois failed to fully understand the problem facing Black women. Although race played a central role in limiting Black women’s occupational opportunities, it was not the only source of their struggle. Mary Church Terrell’s 1904 speech entitled “The Progress of Colored Women” aptly summarizes the challenges Black women faced: “Not only are colored women with ambition and aspiration handicapped on account of their sex, but they are almost everywhere baffled and mocked because of...

  8. Chapter 2 As Good as Any Man: Black Women in Farm Labor
    (pp. 26-48)

    Because slaves were brought to America to serve almost exclusively as agricultural laborers, there is a clear link between Black women’s work and farm labor. The use of Black women’s labor during slavery laid the foundation for their exploitation long after abolition. In order to understand the labor market experience of Black women in the United States and the origins of privilege and disadvantage, we must begin with the initial work context for Blacks in America.

    Blacks were not the only group to be enslaved in the United States. Whites held other Europeans, Native Americans, and Asians in servitude.¹ But...

  9. Chapter 3 Excellent Servants: Domestic Service as Black Women’s Work
    (pp. 49-70)

    While Black women were deemed suitable for farm labor because they were not considered real women, their concentration in domestic service was explicitly tied to the designation of household labor as the work of racial or ethnic women. The assumption that this linkage arose during slavery when Black women served in gender-normative roles as house slaves—tending to children, cooking meals, and doing laundry—is incorrect. Although many Black women served as house slaves, 85 percent of enslaved Black women worked in the fields.¹

    An entirely different pattern emerged among free Black women. In 1860, nearly 70 percent were employed...

  10. Chapter 4 Existing on the Industrial Fringe: Black Women in the Factory
    (pp. 71-96)

    Although the majority of Black women remained mired in domestic service and farm labor through the mid-twentieth century, a significant number were able to leave the farm and ultimately the household to enter the world of factory work. Their transition, however, was a slow one marked by periods of progress and setbacks. Black women were prized as farm laborers and domestic servants, and industrial employers were hesitant to disrupt the “natural order” of things by providing them with an alternative to jobs that amounted to lifelong servitude. By no means was factory work ideal—it presented its own share of...

  11. Chapter 5 Your Blues Ain’t Nothing Like Mine: Race and Gender as Keys to Occupational Opportunity
    (pp. 97-126)

    Labor market privilege is inherently relational. It confers “certain privileges on the individuals and groups that oppress or are able to benefit from the resultant inequalities” and is fundamental to all forms of social oppression.¹ Racial oppression, for instance, is based on the relationship between White domination and Black subordination. Sociologists Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro document this fact in their bookBlack Wealth/White Wealth, noting that an intimate connection exists between White wealth accumulation and Black poverty. Blacks have had “cumulative disadvantages,” and many Whites have had “cumulative advantages.”² Similarly, gender oppression, which stems from the patriarchal structure of...

  12. Chapter 6 The Illusion of Progress: Black Women’s Work in the Post–Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 127-154)

    After nearly a century of spotty occupational progress, the entire opportunity structure for Black women underwent a dramatic shift in the 1960s. In 1960, more than 60 percent of all employed Black women were in service work, and the vast majority, nearly 63 percent, worked in private households. One decade later, the proportion of Black women doing service work had declined to 42 percent, and of that group, 58 percent worked in nonhousehold settings. This change is significant, given the seemingly intractable association of Black women with domestic work prior to 1960.

    However, the changes in the post-1960 period extend...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 155-162)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 163-182)
  15. Index
    (pp. 183-190)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 191-192)