Black women do not save. That is, of course, unsurprising considering the American culture of consumption has transformed into a culture of debt . But it just so happens that structural racism has made partaking in this culture all the more costly for Black communities.
A few weeks ago, the Post Gazette featured a study that explored into the racial wealth gap in the United States. This time, researchers analyzed the fiscal divisions through a gendered lens. The findings told what we already knew: Whites (this time women) control the overwhelming majority of wealth in the United States.
The writeup, titled “Study Finds Median Wealth for Single Black Women at $5” (an obvious attempt to capitalize off of the mainstream media’s obsession with the pathology of Black women.), wasn’t perfect . But the fact remains: the economic structure of this country combined with the financial illiteracy of Black women promise us certain financial doom.
Countless blogger and armchair economist questioned the study as well as the motives behind it, but these findings should inspire some serious self-reflection. As a 21 year-old, my negative net worth is typical for a woman of any racial background . These studies, however, do force me contemplate the ways in which my current risky fiscal behaviors may be setting me up for a shaky financial future despite my middle-class upbringing and world-class education.
And that box of economic dysfunction is not too difficult to unpack. Why spend spend the money in the first place? What prompts women like you and me to live life on the edge of financial ruin?
Not to ignore the very real structural impediments to the development of wealth in black communities, but according to KK Charles (2007) blacks could shrink the wealth gap by as much as 50% if we eliminated what he calls “visible consumption.”
This is an issue that cuts to the very heart of Black womanhood. Black women literally wear their insecurities. An oppressive economic structure cannot be blamed completely. Continued attacks on black women produce consumer culture that has an especially devastating affect on the emotional and financial well-being of all Black women.
As the media has been so quick to point out, it’s hard being a black woman. We’re continually told we’re too fat or too thin, too dark or too light, too picky or too easy. Black women have yet to succumb to the victimology that MSM tries to map onto us, but it is time that Black women grabbed the reigns of our economic destiny.
Changing The Channel
Black women cannot afford to be passive consumers of the media we are presented. Constant critical analysis of the way we’re represented in MSM is essential to developing a sense of self-worth in an unsympthathetic society. BET is an easy target; however, the brazen materialism and misogyny that many young women have become keen to consume provide examples of the ways that we’ve internalized the negative images that we have been force fed since birth.
However, reprogramming requires more than a rejection of the degrading music, videos, and film we encounter daily. It demands a new understanding of how we view the problem.
It’s time that we realize the repercussions of conspicuous consumption don’t confine themselves to innercity housing projects. Much maligned is the black woman who will spend $500 on her weave but can’t pay her light bill. We ridicule these women. We scorn them for their unrespectable behavior, but at the end of the day, we are these women. No matter how we may justify our spending sprees, few of us can afford to throw our money away. But old habits are hard to break.
What Are We Teaching Our Daughters?
I resist the temptation to blame entirely the designer-clad booty shakers on BET for our financial peril. These are issues that began long before Bob Johnson’s Frankenstein hit the airwaves. Studies show that bad financial behaviors are learned , so I’d venture to say that the majority of us who can’t balance a checkbook grew up with parent’s whose bank accounts, for one reason or another, were consistently overdrawn.
I am proud of most of the things I’ve received from my mom: her sense of humor, her love of music, her good genes that will keep me looking 35 when I am well into my 50s. But from her I also learned that worthwhile women pay meticulous attention to their appearance. That same voice that has me reaching for a mirror 10 times a day also has me reaching for my debit card as soon as I see a pair of shoes that would match perfectly with my new dress.
Before young girls are able to set priorites for themselves, we determine them. So let’s teach eachother that we don’t have to wait for a man to acknowledge our beauty. Everyday should be a celebration of Black womanhood. That includes abstaining from participation in a celebrity culture which delights in dissecting the flaws of female celebrities.
Mental stability and health are inextricable linked to that of our bank accounts. We as black women will never be able to close the dreaded wealth gap if we don’t first take time to learn about ourselves as well as the costs and consequences of reckless spending. Not only for ourselves but for our communities.
1. “Why can’t Americans save a dime? - MSN Money.” Personal Finance and Investing - MSN Money. http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/savinganddebt/savemoney/p145775.asp.
2. Ta-nehisi Coates does a characteristically brilliant job problematizing the Post’s presentation here.
3. The most stunning findings measure the wealth of single women between the ages of 36 and 45.
4. “Parents Offer Key to Children’s Financial Well-being.” http://uanews.org/node/25529
This was originally published in April 2010 on The FreshXpress