Personal Finance Is a Social Justice Issue

Written by: Diana Yáñez | Bosque Money

A while ago on the podcast Hear to Slay, I heard Dr. Tressie McMillan Cotton ask “how rich do you have to be to no longer be Black?” That question floored me. 

She asks her university students and for every celebrity, billionaire, or politician they name, she has a story of how they were racially profiled. 

I was shocked to learn that back in 2013 Oprah wasn’t allowed to see a purse because it was “too expensive.” Is anything really too expensive for Oprah??

I don’t want to be part of a society that privileges me for the color of my skin, even as it puts down my mother for the color of her skin. It’s too close to home for me to pretend that nothing’s happening. 

I became fully aware of my white skin privilege after Michael Brown was shot. One of my best friends who is Black and a single mother told me she was dreading having to explain to her nine year old son that because he’s Black he needs to be more cautious. My mother never had to have that conversation with my brother whose features and caramel skin say Mexican. 

Wealth does not Protect Anyone from Bigotry

The idea that wealth would change access is an old argument; Booker T Washington thought that prosperity would lead to inclusion while DuBois did not. In my opinion after over 150 since the emancipation proclamation, I find that  DuBois was correct. 

Resmaa Menakem, therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands argues that at the core racism is a debate on humanity – are we all the same species? I say yes, and we all deserve to walk outside without fear.

After the emancipation proclamation, formerly enslaved people were promised forty acres and a mule. Although formerly enslaved families were temporarily given land, this was quickly taken back once the former Confederate owners reclaimed it. This event is not rare, and in fact is also part of George Floyd’s family history as outlined by The LA Times.

Compare this to the Homestead Act of 1862 where people just had to find a plot of land and call it their own, regardless of the indigenous families who lived there. Or Federal Housing Association policies after WWII were non-white veterans were often denied mortgages because they lived in less “prosperous” areas – aka anywhere non-white people lived. 

Although in these examples I am focusing on the US, racial discrimination and its impact on financial well being is world wide. 

How do we Move Forward? Individual Healing

I believe repair is necessary before forward movement can be real. This includes reparations, public policy changes, anti-racism work, and honestly, grief. 

For me, All the Colors is a place where I contribute to repair. I highlight the history of racism and financial inequality because acknowledging the depth of a situation creates fertile ground for healing to begin. You must know where you stand before you can change direction.

My meditation teacher Rashmi Nier-Ripley says racism is not something that can be “solved” with our intellect. Racism is too heartbreaking for the mind to conceive. It’s easy to get thrown into guilt and self defense and denial – all things that keep us stuck in the status quo.

Instead, I’ve found that journaling, learning about the depth and impact of racism, talking about it with people who’ve earned the right to this discussion, and looking at my own story have led me towards… honestly, more heartbreak and anger. Both of which are appropriate responses for me after years of oblivion. The heartbreak softens me into compassion while the anger mobilizes me into action. 

How do we Move Forward? Community Healing

A core value of All the Colors is interdependence – we are all connected. When my community is doing well I am supported to thrive, and in turn I can help my community. Denial of economic injustice keeps us stuck. As Abacus Wealth Partners point out, “Without further intervention in the political and financial arenas, [the racial wealth] gap will likely persist well into future decades.”

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score points out that without healing our communities nothing will change. 

“When I give presentations on trauma and trauma treatment, participants sometimes ask me to leave out the politics and confine myself to talking about neuroscience and therapy. I wish I could separate trauma from politics, but as long as we continue to live in denial and treat only trauma while ignoring its origins we are bound to fail. In today’s world your zip code, even more than your genetic code, determines whether you will lead a safe and healthy life. 

People’s income, family structure, housing, employment, and educational opportunities affect not only their risk of developing traumatic stress but also their access to effective help to address it. Poverty, unemployment, inferior schools, social isolation, widespread availability of guns and substandard houses all are breeding grounds for trauma. Trauma breeds further trauma; hurt people hurt other people.”

Personal Finance is a Social Justice Issue

A healthy individual who has their personal needs cared for, can then create healthy communities that then demand change. Yes, we cannot give from an empty well. This is why I work on personal finance rather than public policy. My personal gifts and skills are best suited to help individuals gain peace and joy with their money, from there my invitation is that they connect to their community. 

It hurts to live in this society. I want to be part of the solution as a way of absolution. As a way of saying no, this is not okay. As a way of taking a stand and demonstrating my agency. I cannot do everything, but what I can do, I will do. 

Any move towards healing creates ripple effects that keep our fire lit to continue towards liberation. As aboriginal activist and visual artist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Related: Stop Timing the Market