Systems of Power and Young Women of Color

Systems of power are the beliefs, practices, and cultural norms on which individual lives and institutions are built. They are rooted in social constructions of race and gender and embedded in history (colonization, slavery, migration, immigration, genocide) as well as present-day policies and practice. These systems of power reinforce white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity as defining power structures in the United States. Systems of power are oppressive and define relationships between marginalized communities and the dominant culture; they also shape social norms and experiences within marginalized communities. Systems of power feed the structural barriers that are the root causes of inequity experienced by young women of color.

In 2017, CLASP conducted focus groups with young women of color in Birmingham, Alabama, Central Valley, California, Denver, Colorado, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. Our conversations with young women of color identified a set of seven structural barriers that are root causes of the economic marginalization they experienced. This brief lifts up the perspectives of Hmong-American, African American, Latina, Native, LGBTQ+, and gender non-conforming young people on their experiences of systems of power. Building from lived experiences, the brief establishes how race, gender, and their intersection impact the structural barriers detailed in out accompanying fact sheets. Only by understanding and naming the roots and the ground that produce outcomes for young women of color can we begin to dismantle these barriers and challenges and avoid replicating inequity.

To learn more, read this brief by Nia West-Bey, Marlén Mendoza, and Whitney Bunts. It’s part of our Our Ground, Our Voices series.

You can also read our accompanying fact sheets.