A preponderance of payday loan shops and “affordable” housing that actually is not, are contributing factors to a widening wealth gap between blacks and whites. As it relates to women, who traditionally earn less than their male counterparts, access to higher income is even more challenging.

Elaine Black presented this and other information on socioeconomic differences between races at the ‘Women of Color Empowerment Series Advocates for Change: Community Discussion’ on Monday night.

South Florida’s Women of Color hosted the forum, held at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, to address the wealth disparities, as well as the contentious topic of colorism within the black community.

Identifying the issues is important, however, without a game plan for achieving solutions, the problems persist, according to Burnadette Norris-Weeks, a principal at Fort Lauderdale-based civil and governmental law firm Austin Pammies Norris Weeks and chairwoman for the Women of Color Empowerment Conference. Monday night’s forum is a part of a series of talks designed to augment the annual Women of Color conference by affording participants the chance to discuss important issues in a less time-restricted atmosphere.

“This series gives us an opportunity to express ourselves and really come together more as a community as we grapple with the issues that affect us all as black people and as black women,” said Norris-Weeks.

Black’s presentation provided compelling statistics on how poorly communities of color fare economically. She also proposed a variety of solutions for audience members to consider.

“Adopt a family, make a difference. On your job, if you see somebody struggling and who doesn’t understand the system, always reach back,” said Black, who lives and works in Miami’s Liberty City community.

Prior to Black’s presentation, a spirited panel discussion regarding colorism in the black community was moderated by Shirlyon McWhorter, a former Miami-Dade county judge and currently the director of Equal Opportunity Programs at Florida International University.

Panelists Earline Stribbles Horn, attorney Alecia Daniel and Pamela Watson, CPA, shared their thoughts on why dark skinned blacks are treated poorly and light skinned blacks enjoy certain advantages based primarily on their hue.

McWhorter began the discussion by listing a slew of stereotypes that “they” say about blacks, then asked, “What do we say about ourselves?”

While racism in mainstream society is certainly an ongoing issue, she added that intra-racial discrimination is also a problem that has its roots in slavery.

“If you were on the outside, those in the house were considered better, and we understand that they were in the house because they were the children of the master, and that’s why they were lighter, obviously,” she explained. “And those who were darker, they were kept outside and subjected to beatings more than the others. If they did that to us, why do we continue to perpetuate that behavior?”

Davis said that her manner of speaking has drawn criticism from other blacks. “I speak properly, so I have people say to me, ‘oh you’re trying to be white.’” She added, “We were taught that white is better, and so we emulate that, we embrace it, at some point we have to let go of that because that’s what’s holding us back.”

The media play a significant role in perpetuating the color issue, said McWhorter. “When you see Will Smith in his new movie, and the person is playing the leading lady opposite of him. When you see Denzel Washington in movies, usually the people who play opposite of him are lighter skinned people.”

McWhorter recounted a recent example of how light skinned blacks are treated more respectably, sometimes unwittingly. As the director of FIU’s equal opportunity program, McWhorter who is dark skinned, and a member of her staff were interviewing a white woman who was a finalist for a management position. McWhorter said she noticed a significant difference in the way that the candidate interacted with her and her staff member, whose skin color is light.

“My assistant director is very fair. During the interview, (the candidate) never looked at me, she looked at (my assistant) the entire time,” she explained, adding, “She didn’t get that job.”

What may appear to be racism or colorism may actually be something else, she shared. “Sometimes it’s just what (people are) comfortable with.” Still, McWhorter said that it’s no excuse. “You need to get out of your comfort zone, have something at your house and invite people who are different from you.”