What If I Were Not Given Boots to Pull Myself Up By
Being February, it is Black History Month. Growing up, this was one of my favorite times in school because I was able to learn about different black leaders and pioneers in our country's history. Now that I am a financial planner, I spend the majority of my time learning and speaking about all things finance. I realize I have missed opportunities to speak about different financial troubles that the African American community has faced in our country. Knowing there are not many people of color in the financial services industry, I believe I would be doing a disservice to not speak about these realities. Therefore, I would like to take some time to explain some specific obstacles, times of triumph, and things that we can all improve on moving forward.
Famous musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z had a monumental lyric in his song, “Story of O.J.” that referred to an issue in African American communities, low levels of homeownership. Jay-Z said, “Please don’t die over the neighborhood, that your mama rentin’.” Studies show that more than half of African Americans are not homeowners. This number is lower than non-African Americans in our country. Many are renting instead of building equity in their own name. So how did this happen? Well, in the mid-nineteen thirties banks and mortgage lenders started a practice called “redlining,” that denied financial services to certain areas based on race or ethnicity. For example, if someone lived in a neighborhood that was predominately black and applied for a loan (typically a home mortgage), they would more than likely be denied based on where they lived - not on their income or employment status. This barrier halted many families from lifting themselves out of poverty and created a generation of hard working families without access to home ownership - one of the foundations of the “American
2. Lack of Access To Banking:
I challenge you to unlock your phone, open your map app, search for “banks,” and notice where the lack of banks are (especially if you live somewhere with over 300,000 people). Next, do the same thing but instead, type “payday loans.” Research shows that in majority white communities there are an average of 41 financial institutions and while nonwhite majority communities average 27. This lack of access contributes to inequality for these communities.
● More predatory financial services like pay day loans
● Higher fees to simply and cash checks & deposit checks,
● Chance to effectively build a savings account.
● Lack of access to all banking services.
3. White Flight:
The term “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a phrase most Americans are familiar with. This phrase represents the idea that if you work hard enough you can pull yourself out of your current situation. Unfortunately, this was not the case for many African Americans. The term “white flight” signifies the historical occurrence where African Americans would move into more affluent neighborhoods and white neighbors would flee these neighborhoods to avoid potential decreases in home value. Further, they simply did not want neighbors that did not look like them. This exit caused negative financial impacts on the community, because as the white families left, their money left with them. This event was another devastating blow to a community that was already hundreds of years behind due to slavery, black codes, and Jim Crow Laws. In a sense, the black community did not even have “boots” to start with.
“White flight” has had lasting effects till this day. It has helped contribute to the lack of banking and businesses in black communities. Even as recent as the mid-nineties, real estate agents would covertly sway black families from moving to predominantly white communities. Despite constant setbacks, there were still thriving black communities with success of their own. However, consistent with the narrative, terrorism destroyed dreams of triumph.
4. Black Wall Street:
In the early twenties in Tulsa, Oklahoma there was a thriving black community. This community had a school system, banks, doctors, lawyers, and dentists. It housed restaurants, salons, barbershops, and even a hospital. It was a booming neighborhood and community built by African Americans who were fleeing from the oppressions of segregation and racism after the Civil War. In the midst of their success, terrorist groups entered and destroyed the community by bombing storefronts, burning homes, and killing over a hundred black residents. This tragic story highlights a few things. First, it shows that the black community has indeed seen times of financial triumph and that these events should be highlighted and celebrated. Second, despite the success, we must recognize that there have been systems in place that hindered the flourishing of black communities. Finally, past hindrance, there have been overt actions taken to stunt our community’s financial success.
What can we do moving forward?
We must actively fight against systems that overtly (or covertly) oppress people of color and praise organizations that help their communities. For example, even small things like Cash App help the unbanked have access!
Financial education is important but it is not everything. For example, I have done many financial presentations for underrepresented communities. I have explained the ways to actively get out of debt, and have taught people about credit and homeownership. However, once the presentation was over people would tell me how much they were getting paid and their expenses. They simply did not have enough to make it. They were working tirelessly but did not have sufficient income. It is a sad reality, but a lot of people need more than just information. Look at a college graduate with student loans and no job? A lot of information, but no substance. We should look at different opportunities for underrepresented communities to have access to fair pay. Shop in those communities, it goes a long way. So instead of avoiding a community that has people who looked differently that you embrace it not only emotionally but financially.
Lastly we should encourage young black talent to pursue careers in the financial services industry. If it were not for role models of mine like Brock Hedgecoke, CFP®, Richard Archer CFA,® CFP®, and Peter Lazaroff CFA®,CFP® affirming me in my talents and giftings, I would have never thought I had a place in this industry. For reference, none of these men are black or minorities; they are all white men who took it upon themselves to aid in making a difference in the industry. Now, it's my job to take the education I have been given, apply it to my work and be as great as I can be. My hope is that if I remember who I am and where I came from, I will always be led to make a difference in my community.
Ford, Carmel. “Home Ownership by Race and Ethnicity.” Eyeonhousing.org, 15 Dec. 2017, eyeonhousing.org/2017/12/homeownership-by-race-and-ethnicity/.
Waldek, Stefanie. “What Is White Flight.” Housebeautiful, 9 Oct. 2020, www.housebeautiful.com/lifestyle/a34319800/what-is-white-flight/.
Jay-Z, The Life Of O.J. S. Carter Enterprises, LLC, 2017