Wealth Building in the Face of Oppression
You know, I really have to appreciate the way Hov has infected us with the 4:44 album. Here we have one of the most well-known living legends in the rap game spiraling into a glorious tailspin of black empowerment, traditional bravado and realness. In Hov’s most poignant points, he highlights black empowerment through economic gains. Insert applause and praise for spreading this narrative, good lookin’ out Jay.
I cannot stress how important I believe it to be for all people of color, specifically black Americans, to find a pathway to greater economic gains as an entire community. While access to money is no solution to inequality, and it is far from a means to be treated humanely, it does act as a faint shield and weapon to wield against systems of unfair opposition.
Money and the order of one’s finances, acts as a protective layer against systems of oppression that exist everywhere. Within the nefarious Prison Industrial Complex, income levels in general impacts the likelihood of incarceration. The Prison Policy Initiative found that in 2014 incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages. “The gap in income is not solely the product of the well-documented disproportionate incarceration of Blacks and Hispanics, who generally earn less than Whites. We found that incarcerated people in all gender, race, and ethnicity groups earned substantially less prior to their incarceration than their non-incarcerated counterparts of similar ages” (Prison Policy Initiative). Additionally, you see recidivism rates, the rate at which ex-prisoners return to prison once released, decrease when one has greater financial support when returning to the “free” world. A world that has branded them with a scarlet letter that forces ex-cons to disclose criminal records on every job application and disallows them the right to vote.
Amongst our most trusted banks we still see predatorily practices that actually make it more expensive to be poorer by enforcing overdraft fees and bogus charges. Peep this study that shows overdraft fees per racial demographic and tell me this is not a plan to tax poor people, people of color and other demographics that have historically found difficulties garnishing wealth within a racist nation. This study by Pew Trust (see graph, pg. 4) shows that Black and Latinos made up 37% of people charged with overdraft fees but make up only 24% of the population. With additional wealth, these treacherous traps set by our most prominent banks may be avoided through broader access to more sound banking options.
The housing market in and of itself is one of the most racially exploited free market systems. One’s wealth is directly correlated with the ability to either withstand gentrification (aka foreign occupation) or fall victim to its forces of oppression. Residing in New York City for over a decade, I’ve seen it all. Landlords and building managers increasingly find both legal and illegal pathways to twist laws and arms to get lower income earners out of their homes and wealthy income earners in. Take these cases covered in a Mother Jones report entitled, How Wall Street Screwed Over Tenants in New York City, as a point of reference. Here we see landlords actively shutting off heat and hot water during the winter to freeze out residents, building managers serving fake eviction notices and private equity firms litigating their way to evict the most senior tenants in rent-regulated apartments.
“Organizers found a single mother caring for three small children who had been living without a working bathroom for more than three months. Her makeshift toilet consisted of a bucket and a hose she managed to connect to the leaky kitchen sink. She explained that she had not moved out because the local housing authority that provided her monthly rental assistance subsidy would not approve her for a transfer to a new apartment.” (Mother Jones, How Wall Street Screwed Over Tenants in New York City, 2014)
Through increased communal wealth these systematic forces of exile and removal may be negated and avoided altogether.
The metaphorical economic sword and the offensive use of one’s finances is the fight back against these systems. Political influence and representation is the most comprehensive and overarching byproduct of wealth that can be used for the benefit of our community. Jeff Milyo, economics professor at University of Missouri at Columbia, notes “It is true that winning candidates typically spend more on their campaigns than do their opponent” We see a direct correlation between the amount of money raised and who is ultimately elected. This isn’t to say that every elected politician who is also a person of color treats their constituency better than the normative white politician, but the increase of representation of black people in politics makes it easier for other people of color to penetrate the political arena in the future. With greater representation in politics the greater the chances of legislation being passed that prevents or dissuades unequal treatment. The simple no taxation without representation rings true here. Imagine if we had the numbers to maintain a competitive edge in America's current binary political colosseum.
Additionally, wealth begets premium access to government rendered services. Take a deep look into the inequalities in educational outcomes. Amongst our poorest cities we see lower graduation rates in comparison to our wealthiest areas. One study reported, “Of the 1,000 poorest districts in the U.S., only 68 (6.8%) have mean test scores at or above the national average.” As we raise families, the ability to mobilize and reside in areas with stronger school districts not only means a richer education for our children but also a higher earning potential.
Paying it forward and investing in other’s future is a commendable and communal tactic for economic empowerment. If you’ve been hip to the game for a while you already know the benefits of buying black. Individually, the $20 spent at a black owned business may seem inconsequential but we are not alone in this endeavor. When en masse we all grow individual wealth and buy black our collective economic empowerment increases, (creating a protective barrier for ourselves which becomes a greater shield for our entire community). Thus, our protective barrier for ourselves becomes a greater shield for our entire community nationwide.
Maintaining our entrepreneurial competitive edge is key to thickening and hardening this protective barrier. If the health of a local economy is indicative to the health of small businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors, then the health of the black economy is indicative to the strength of our black owned businesses. Additionally, business ownership may come with tax exemptions and deductions that can reduce one’s overall life expenses, regardless of the success of the business. For a snippet of proof check out Brian Beane who presents the idea that your rent, travel and living expenses related to your business can be itemized in your taxes for significant deductions in what you owe and an increase in your tax return.
Money is not a ‘solve all your problems’ fix but it can be helpful in decreasing the effect of the bullshit we deal with on the daily. There are pervasive systems within our society that make equity difficult to obtain as a person of color. However, our collective economic strength is more about our collective resiliency in the face of oppression. Peep the SUSU Movement blog for more thoughts on economic empowerment, tips for entrepreneurs and marketing guidance. Also, let us know what you think, share if you feel moved to and as always thanks for reading.
"Please note, this process and road to equality is a two part process. The systems that perpetuate racism through oppressive tactics of inequality need to be called out, marched on and demanded to change. And we as people of color also need to be twice as good. No, it's not fair whatsoever and we shouldn't even have to consider this. But in a global market, I fear that if we as a community fail to seize financial opportunity at the rate of other demographics, the systems will continue to perpetuate their injustice and enhance their entrenched opposition to our economic empowerment. Lastly, this isn't woe is me and my poor black folks cry. Far from it! The facts are we just earn less, own less, and have less. I want to help change that."