Keli Goff on How Black Women Have Been Balancing Life and Having It All

Keli Goff

Articles about privileged white women trying to “have it all” ignore the fact that women of color have been balancing life and work out of necessity.

The only thing I have grown to hate more than the term “having it all” is the debate about whether or not women can have it all. To be clear, I have been roped into this debate myself on more than one occasion, but I usually find myself doing what I just did: critiquing how pointless it is in some ways.

But in a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation. She reminds us that for it to ever truly be effective, more women of color need to join the conversation, and more white women and men need to be willing to listen when we do join the discussion. But for me, the greatest takeaway from the piece is just how poorly the news media have covered the having-it-all debate for so long. Either black women are ignored altogether, or the many facets of our challenges are mischaracterized or oversimplified. As a result, our needs don’t end up driving policy discussions on issues such as work-life balance.

Here’s what I mean. In the past few years, debates about stay-at-home motherhood and having it all have often been painted in media accounts  as follows: Elite women, often white, have the luxury of having the debate, while poor women, often minorities, are too busy working to spend time debating.

And as I once explained to my white editor while finishing up a chapter on the impact of class status on politics in the black community for my book Party Crashing, most upper-class blacks will continue to experience something that few upper-class whites will: an ongoing, regular reminder of poverty. This reminder could come in the form of a sibling who loses a job and needs substantial financial help, or a cousin who still lives in the neighborhood that our education allowed us to leave behind. As a result, black women, including successful ones, face a measure of financial and familial pressure we rarely talk about with one another, and certainly not with our white friends.

As Martin writes so eloquently in her piece: “What’s different, in short, for so many minority women, is that they cannot help but see themselves as a part of something larger—perhaps because they know there are obstacles in their lives and the lives of their family members that no amount of ‘grit’ will overcome.”

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Source: The Root | 

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