Monday: Financial Literacy Apps Are A B.S. Solution To Ending Poverty In Black Communities

Two celebrities have gone viral recently for investing in a “financial literacy app” designed to help “end poverty in the black community”. The celebrities in question do not in fact live in black communities and their estimated net worths are $60 million and $300 million respectively. For anyone who doesn’t know, these numbers sit firmly in the “accountants manage my money and I could throw $100,000 into the bin annually for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t matter” territory.

The median net worth of Black Americans is $9,590 which is vastly different from a net worth in the millions. I strongly doubt this is because Black Americans are mismanaging $59,990,410 throughout their lifetimes. In fact, if you take the median income of $38,000 annually and extrapolate, you’ll find out that Black Americans median lifetime earnings will be $1,300,000.

I have my doubts that learning how to have a savings account will cause an additional fifty-eight million dollars to materialize out of thin air. If that’s the case, then I’ve been doing savings all wrong, clearly. Actually, screw it. Let’s do the math. If the median household invested every single dollar they earned and their earnings compounded annually at an interest rate of 6% due to investment in the stock market, their lifetime earnings would still only be about $4.5million — again, nowhere near $60 million dollars.

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I’m sharing this to demonstrate just how easy it is for people with large amounts of money to remain totally out of touch with the lives of the average people in the Black community they claim to want to help. I wasn’t raised sucking on the teat of media propagandized celebrity worship, so I don’t feel any particular need to be “grateful” that these celebrities are “trying to do something to help” either.

Financial literacy is clearly not going to bring in massive amounts of wealth considering you could have zero expenses and never attain celebrity levels of wealth. I’m the last person who will argue that financial literacy is “useless”, but it’s not a solution to socioeconomic problems facing black communities. The solution also posits the problem as one of individual choice rather than structural issues that disenfranchise black people and black communities in general.

Government policy has gone out of its way to stymy black wealth building specifically as discussed in The Color of Law : A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, a book which discusses how black people were blocked from acquiring land and property by de jure practices of the US federal government. De facto practices also prevented Black Americans from acquiring wealth and one of the most prominent examples of this was when a white mob destroyed an area known as “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the 1920s. These examples point to a different locus of responsibility than a financial literacy app aimed at the black community would suggest.

I’ve seen an alternative theory which suggests that “all Black poor people are financially literate anyway”. This is another black and white way of looking at the problem that frankly isn’t true either. The fact that any Black people are financially illiterate is still not the cause of their poverty regardless. We don’t need to pretend to have advanced financial literacy to critique this “solution”.

It’s quite rich that people who by and large have teams of people to manage their money believe that they understand how to live within a budget of $38,000 a year — before taxes! Their solutions are quite obviously out of touch. Giving away 80% of their wealth would probably do more for “the community” than creating an app, but that’s another discussion for another day. Quite simply put, instead of coming up with detached top-down solutions, our attention would be better served by focusing on grassroots activists who spend all day interacting with people living below the poverty line or middle class people. These people know what they need and individuals who won the socioeconomic lottery are not somehow intellectually superior to them.

Believe me, if you know many rich people, you will quickly understand that having a team of people to manage your money isn’t a sign of greater intellect or financial literacy. Rich people are simply less impacted by terrible money management because they have more money at their disposal to insulate them from the consequences of their stupidity. Not all rich people are good with money, not all poor people are bad with money, and that’s the bottom line here. Instead of looking for individuals to blame, we need to tackle the systemic issues that have left the black community with a dwindling net worth and low wages. Is there any way we can get an app for that?

Thursday: Thoughts On Inequality

This Thursday, I want to jot down some of my thoughts on inequality, particularly because of a conversation that my fiancé and I had this morning regarding All The Rage by Darcy Lockman. Gender Inequality, income inequality and other forms of inequality are the foundation for social justice. We seek a more equitable society where resources are distributed equitably, labor and responsibility are shared, and where every human being is guaranteed their human rights according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

With this in mind, here are some of my thoughts for the day, again, loosely organized so that I may expand on them in a longer post later. If you find any of these interesting, and want me to write more, just let me know in the comments below, because I am definitely interested in hearing what any readers may think…

  • Inequality makes both parties unhappy, including the party benefitting from the inequality. This idea is postulated in All The Rage, and within heterosexual couples at least, studies show this to be true.

  • In general, men seem to believe the trade-offs they’ve agreed to make by benefitting from patriarchy and doing nothing about it large-scale are women’s responsibility. They worry about “not expressing their emotions” but not about how they will profit off of decades of women’s thankless, unpaid labor. The two are connected.

  • One thing I don’t understand about society in general is why the concept of equality is so fundamentally repulsive to some people. What has to be so wrong with you that you cannot agree that everyone should have equal access to food, water, shelter, etc? I think about Non-Violent Communication strategies and how they could be used to address this issue quite often.

  • Inequality can often become invisible, which is one of the problems discussed in older books on poverty like “The Other America” as well as recent books like “Evicted”. One of the major issues we have is that disguising poverty has become easier, which makes the problems easier to ignore. This is particularly disturbing to think about when you think of recent cities initiatives to block out the homeless from sleeping publicly. Even if hostile architecture has an upfront cost, the long term benefit involves making inequality more invisible. The long term prognosis for solving homelessness involves more accountability.

  • I had an up close experience with inequality that gave me pause. Sandals recently purchased a large amount of golf course land in Cap Estate St. Lucia, and they’ve been ripping up the old gold course in order to plant new grass and redo the landscape. As we drove by, I noticed large pipes spraying gallons and gallons of water into dirt that was only going to become grass. Later that evening, I read a local news story about a single mother whose kids were taken away because she can’t afford to have running water in her home, and has to get some from her neighbor. The government has determined she is too poor to be a parent. These two experiences co-exist within the same 26 mile long island.

  • Inequality manufactures a sense of perpetual dissatisfaction. The two go hand in hand with each other and I wonder how much happier people would be if we dedicated our lives to pursuing equitable living for all people rather than hoarding resources for ourselves (uhh, if you happen to be a resource hoarder that is and not struggling to make rent next month. I’m not sure who is reading this.)

  • What’s the most personal level we can practice reducing inequality on? Is it giving to people who have less than us without strings attached? Is it taking the time to help our neighbors with something? Is it sharing our skills and wisdom to empower someone to leave a difficult situation? Maybe the only way to tackle inequality is via practicing some kind of active politics?

I’ve had some experiences recently that fall in line with many of my life experiences involving privileged people. I feel disturbed at the lack of contentedness I see amongst the people who hoard resources, or exploit labor at the expense of others. I wonder if they feel empathy towards other people. Or maybe empathy is only reserved for stray dogs, and only other inferior creatures who don’t run the risk of getting uppity.

When I see water, fresh water, that people in this country need, getting sprayed into the ether so a multi-millionaire on a golf vacation can see useless ineffective sprawling lawn and leave a three star review on Google, it’s hard to feel patient, hopeful or idealistic about the world. But I do. Because despite all of that, I know the truth is that we, the caring, kind, compassionate people are many, and the greedy, selfish, hoarders are few. For today, I need to believe at least that.