I was raised by an African-American father and an African-Canadian mother. Growing up, I spent my time living in Vancouver, British Columbia where my mom is from, and a small, country town in Texas where my dad is from. To say my experiences bouncing between places as opposite as the Canadian West Coast and American Deep South were interesting would be an understatement. But one thing I realized very early is that no matter where I was, being a Black woman shaped how I experienced the world and how the world experienced me.
Unfortunately, for most of my young life, I resented being Black. I felt like my life was much harder because of my skin color and that never really seemed fair to me. But throughout my early 20s, I have really tried to embrace all the power and the beauty that comes with being a Black woman and dismantle some of my built-up resentment. In order to do this, I’ve had to face some pretty serious negative monologues that I created and internalized. The most recent of these monologues being my unhealthy relationship with money.
Being financially optimistic is sometimes still a struggle.
My racial background has drastically shaped the way that I view, spend, and earn money in a predominately negative way. Moreover, these negative views had gotten me into a bad financial position in my early 20s. While today I am intentionally and actively working on managing and understanding my finances in a positive and healthy way and have taken many steps forward to better my financial situation, being financially optimistic is sometimes still a struggle. And when the video of George Floyd’s murder first surfaced a few weeks ago, it served as yet another violent reminder of systematic racism and imbalances that span from police brutality to financial literacy oppression in the US.
Before I continue, I would like to mention the very important fact that I don’t speak for all Black people or other racialized groups. This article is written solely based on my personal experiences. Below are five of my negative financial truths that have been influenced by my racial background and ethnicity and the ways I am trying to improve them.
I struggled with emotional spending.
In Vancouver, the Black population is a mere 1% across the entire province. Because of this, I felt like I was always on display growing up. In school, I was constantly bombarded with microaggressive questions from classmates about my ethnicity and culture. In public, strangers often ask me if they can take a picture of me or try to touch me without permission. While Texas has a much larger Black population, growing up, whenever I encountered non-Black people it was often a relatively tense and aggressive experience. Some of my earliest childhood memories are very violent, filled with racial slurs and confederate flags. I developed emotional overspending as a coping mechanism for these uncomfortable situations. I would impulsively spend $60 on “comfort food,” $50 on a book I could disappear into, or $100 on a sweater I didn’t really need or like. Buying these things helped me feel “safe” because, in reality, I didn’t feel safe at all. Along my money journey, I have worked to get more control over my emotions when it impacts my spending. Today, when I feel overly emotional or unsafe I lean on my loved ones. I’ll pick up the phone and Facetime my brother or text my friends to go for a walk. While it’s hard to estimate exactly how much this change saves me every month, I can definitely say that stopping my emotional spending has had an immensely positive impact on my wallet as well as my overall happiness and wellbeing.
Investing & saving isn’t equally accessible to everyone.
I often find that when people talk about investing and saving they underestimate or don’t address the amount of privilege that comes with both of those. Saving and investing as wealth strategies are dependent on full access to banking. However, banks have a long history of discriminating against Black people. No one in my immediate or extended family ever believed that they could access or utilize these wealth strategies. Statistically, Black households have less access to tax-advantaged forms of savings, less access to credit, and are far less likely than their white counterparts to have emergency savings. In other words, there are simply many more obstacles to building wealth. But I have since learned that everyone should save for the future and it’s a part of being fiscally responsible, so I recently set up a high-interest savings account and have been strategically adding money to it each month. I haven’t quite started investing yet but I do take time each week to familiarize myself with all the investing options available. I am hoping to try my hand at investing through a robo-advisor as soon as I have my emergency fund securely set up within the next few months.
I’ve held many implicit biases surrounding money and race.
I used to believe that some people had money and other people didn’t and that there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. The vast majority of my family severely struggled financially and were entrenched in poverty due to the systematic racism they experienced that impacted everything from their education and job opportunities to their health and safety.
In the Texas town where my father is from, 32% of the Black population lives in poverty compared to just 11% of the white population. I believed I was destined to have less money because of my skin color. I’ve since tried to reframe my thoughts to be more positive and convince myself that I could live comfortably. I had the privilege of going to university and securing a great job after I graduated. Since I started working I have taught myself to make good financial decisions. I am disciplined with the money that I earn and I also have been looking for opportunities to earn a second stream of income such as through freelance writing.
I overspent for 10 years trying to blend in.
Like many young Black girls growing up, I didn’t think I was beautiful. I genuinely thought that my natural hair and complexion made it more difficult for me to make friends, date, and eventually secure well-paying jobs. Viola Davis once explained that Black actresses are often reluctant to wear their natural hair on screen because it makes them look more “political” when they want to look more neutral. Along those lines, I started chemically straightening my hair when I was 10 years old, but three years ago I made the huge decision to wear my hair naturally. Altogether these changes save me anywhere from $1,300 – $1,500 each year. Since then, I have gotten to know how to take care of my own hair and skin and, most importantly, learned to see myself as beautiful as I am. It is very meaningful for me today to be able to take the money I used to spend on trying to adhere to these white-centric standards of beauty and put it towards saving for my future.
I lacked access to financial literacy.
My parents both came from poverty and were able to provide my brother and me with a middle-class life. My family made much more money than most of my extended family, so from the outside, it seemed like we were doing great. While my parents made more money, they weren’t completely financially literate, either. We lived paycheck to paycheck, we always spent beyond our means, we used credit cards to fund big purchases, and we didn’t plan for the future. On average, African-Americans are less financially literate when compared to their white counterparts. Black adults receive average scores of around 38% on this Personal Finance Index compared to average scores of 55% by white adults. Centuries of complex racial oppression has made it more difficult for Black families to acquire financial knowledge and pass it on to their children. At the beginning of my financial journey, I realized I had to teach myself everything from scratch. I had no idea how to budget, save, invest, secure multiple streams of income, do my taxes, or start a retirement fund. It was discouraging at the beginning to feel like I had learned it all on my own, but now I feel motivated to be knowledgeable for my future children.
I would like to continue to use my story to bring awareness to the ways in which Black families can be more financially literate. As a Black woman, I’d like to inspire and help others around me make positive money changes in their lives and dismantle negative stereotypes about finances.
Domunique is a full-time communications manager who is interested in finance, health and wellness, pop-culture, and community service. You can follow her on Instagram @domuniquelashay.
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