A candid conversation about race in America

A candid conversation about race in America

Minneapolis, Denver, NYC, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Louisville, San Jose, Des Moines, Detroit. The list goes on. These are just some of the cities that have experienced protests in the past week.

George Floyd's murder (and murder-porn video) was one of the catalysts for these protests. But let's be clear: Sooner or later, this was going to happen. Things are not okay in America. America's continuing issue with race, inequality, and the routine acceptance of the mistreatment of black people and other people of color came to a head in the last couple of days.

Then, we had Amy Cooper in New York City calling the police on Christian Cooper unecessarily during a normal incident that plays out all the time – annoying people with their dogs off leash. That one call could have resulted in Christian Cooper's death.

In this episode of Michelle is Money Hungry, I'm going to get candid about race in America, money and opportunity, and what's next.

This is a very difficult show for me to do because I have so many thoughts racing through my mind. The goal of this episode is to give a better perspective of what people are angry about and to leave with ideas of how we collective can do better. And, honestly, I have to say something about this. And just so you know, this is not the first time that I've talked about race and wealth in America on my website and podcast. (But it's the first time J.D. has shared my work here at Get Rich Slowly.)

J.D.'s note: I'm not a podcast listener, but I listened to this episode. I liked it enough to ask Michelle if I could re-run everything here at GRS. I'm grateful that she agreed. The text here is, essentially, Michelle's outline so it might seem rough at times. I encourage you — if you have the time — to listen to the podcast instead. If you'd rather read/listen at Michelle's site, here's the original.

This is Winning?

We are not “winning” in the US and haven't been for many years. The fact of the matter is America, at its core, is dysfunctional and its dysfunction is currently on display.

America is an incredibly wealthy country.

It's considered a land of great opportunity and compared to other countries this is the case. We just had a private company launch US based astronauts into space via SpaceX run by an immigrant But, with all of that wealth we also have a huge problem with wealth distribution. Schools are unequal. There's a lack of access to affordable health care. There's a constant threat of danger due to gun-related violence. Access to good paying jobs is decreasing as business move manufacturing off-shore/

Americans also focus on the individual vs. the collective and that affects everything related to creating policies for citizens. Then, add racism to the mix and you get a dangerous mix.

I'd like to paraphrase a couple of things that I've heard several times during the past week about the George Floyd protests.

  • “Why are people looting? They're tearing up businesses and their own town. Why can't they protest without damaging property? Why can't the protestors do it differently?”
  • “George Floyd is just 1 man, I get that this was horrible but to riot and burn down your town for one person makes no sense”

Protest as a verb: To express an objection to what someone has said or done (via the online dictionary)

I would like to point out three really important things to consider.

First, Colin Kaepernick quietly protested by kneeling for years to protest black people getting shot by the police. He lost his livelihood, was ridiculed, and was blacklisted from a career that he could still have right now. He didn't shout, he didn't break anything, he just took the knee. And, he was told that he was protesting the wrong way. Which ironically people making the comment “why riot?” should be catching themselves on. I tend wonder did you also say that he was protesting the wrong way too.

Second, it's 2020. There's video FOR EVERYTHING. While there are protestors looting, there are also groups of white people who seem organized tearing up buildings during protests. Leading other participants to ask them what the hell are they doing. In fact, that even happened here in Denver where a George Floyd demonstrator called out an Antifa asshole who was defacing a statue in front of the State Capital.

Third, why were people more concerned about the treatment of the DOG in the Amy Cooper video vs. the fact that Christian Cooper, US Citizen and a human being, could have been killed due to her actions. In case you're like who's Amy? She's the chick who called the police on Christian Cooper, the black birder in NYC.

Fourth, if the public at large values dogs and buildings more than my black life that's something we need to reflect on.

It's NOT Just about George Floyd

The protests aren't just about the murder of George Floyd. The murder was the catalyst for something that has been coming for awhile. People just weren't paying attention. The protests are about the following:

  • The ongoing acceptance of black people being murdered by the police (and other people) ON CAMERA and getting away with it is bullshit. And, we're not going to take this anymore.
  • Black people accounted for 31% of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13% of the US population.
  • Lack of opportunity in a land of plenty.
  • Deepening poverty.
  • The almost daily rhetoric and actions taken by the current administration to systematically eliminate people's rights.

Basically, people are fed up with everything.

The Coronavirus

Added to this anger, is the anger associated with the Coronavirus response. It has not escaped my attention that the moment the talking points were that black/brown/and old people were the individuals most likely to die from the virus the conversation about it changed.

It felt like people were willing to sacrifice me and mine so that they could get hair cuts. That's just shitty. I work for myself from home. But many people of color work in roles that require constant interaction with people, increasing the likelihood of being exposed to the Coronavirus. But, those are also the jobs that people have lost because sporting events/restaurants/and retail won't rebound for years.

Forty million people have lost their jobs and over 100,000 have lost their lives. As I watched the protests several questions came to mind about the people who were protesting.

  • Who knew someone who had suffered at the hands of the police?
  • Who had lost a job because of the virus and they had nothing else to lose?
  • Who knew someone who had died because of the virus or gotten sick with lifelong physical and financial reprecussions?
  • Who had experienced being roadblocked professionally because of the color of their skin?
  • Who in the crowd has health insurance? Definitely not the 40 million people who have lost their jobs

I wasn't just looking at the screen and seeing people that I didn't know and couldn't feel empathy for. I got it. I 100% get their anger because I share and I want to share a glimpse into my experience being black in America. I will also share some other people's experiences as well.

Check Your Privilege

Every year, I have at least a minimum of two incidents of white women clutching their purses when I walk by. Even when I have a giant purse on my shoulder. I've had people ignore me when I'm talking to them – blatantly. I've been roadblocked for promotions and told by the directors of the program that I worked for that they didn't feel comfortable with me representing the program abroad. I've been followed in grocery and clothing stores. I've been referenced as the angry black woman I've been called the n-word.

I have a file with all details related to my ability to vote and I am obsessive about this. Why? Because a key part of the act was invalidated in 2013, because jurisdictions are trying to levy poll taxes in order to be eligible to vote (looking at you Florida) and because of how fearful people are to allow fair and equal access to vote and how hard they work to surpress your vote. Which should tell those of you who don't vote often how important your right to vote is.

I would like to get married and have two little boys who look like their dad. But, I'm afraid of having little boys that other people feel free to: harass and kill.

Depending on the situation I'm uncomfortable when the police are around and hate it when they drive near me when I'm driving. The last thing I want to deal with is any interaction with the police.

I was sitting on a coffee shop patio with headphones on having a conversation with my mastermind group two weeks ago. There were other people on the patio talking as well. An older white woman reprimanded me for talking too loud. Don't worry, I shut it down. But my friends Sandy Smith and Elle Martinez saw the whole thing. We were on a Zoom call.

I worry about my black male relatives, male friends, and their male kids.

It is a normal thing for people of color to have a conversation with their children telling them that the police likely not protect them and more likely hurt or kill them because they are a threat.

My experience is nothing compared to what my other friends and family members have dealt with. Why is it that my full equality as a United State's citizen is perceived as a threat to your equality? It makes no sense.

America will never be as great a country as it could be as long as the following remains true:

  • The lack of willingness to have candid and painful conversations about race and inequality. Our unwillingness to have these conversations keep us from truly knowing one another.
  • The continuing growth in the divide between the haves and have nots
  • Lack of access to quality health care
  • Lack of access to fair and equal ways to vote.
  • We accept unequal treatment of citizens by people in positions of authority
  • Those who benefit from a position of power don't stand up for what's right.

Another person's success doesn't endanger you. It benefits you. I live in a nice neighborhood. During the Coronavirus outbreak (which is still happening) I would walk around the neighborhood. No one looked stressed. I would see people exercising, riding their bikes, and spending time with their kids.

Most of the people in my neighborhood work white collar jobs and — let's be candid — are white. They were having a very different experience of the Coronavirus situation than other people that I know.

They were still getting paid to work or were able to work from home. They had some resources available to them that insured that they would be able to take care of their personal expenses. Maybe not indefinitely, but for awhile. I heard or saw conversations about purchasing properties now because now would be a great time to do so. People had access to the internet and could continue to educate their kids via online learning, take fitness classes, and order food and clothing instead of going into grocery stores.

I include myself in these observations. I have these privileges too. As I improve my life, I can't lose sight of how important it is to help other people along the way.
There is a reason why I am so passionate about sharing personal finance content and how people can empower themselves making money selling what they already know.What is my success if other people are suffering?

What We Can Do

There is a lot that we can do to better the situation.

  • When your friends of color tell you that they feel like something is racist or are sharing an experience that was painful or scary for them-listen. Don't tell them how they should feel or how they should have reacted. It's insulting. Just listen. In fact regardless of the issue active listening is an important skill to develop.
  • Become self-aware, we all have our prejudiced or even racist thoughts regardless of color. Becoming self-aware of these biases helps us to manage them before they adversely affect someone else.
  • People of color, some of your White friends might be struggling with how to have these conversations and genuinely want to be a part of the solution. (J.D., for instance.) Give them some grace as they make mistakes during the process. But, speak up so they don't make them again. I've had some incredibly candid conversations with my white friends throughout the course of our friendships. I've had to because I was unwilling to let things slide by.

And remember, actions matter more than words — and so does your inaction.

What you do when I'm not in the room when people are making jokes and comments says a lot about YOU. When people make shitty comments online-people that you know, what will you do? Will you say nothing and be complicit because it's hard to stand up for people who aren't in the room?

Basically, will you take the easy way out or do the heavy lifting which is hard. Which means you may lose friends and family.

Be patient with one another. This is a lifetime of conversations. Connect people with opportunities that will grow their income and livelihoods. Become a personal and professional mentor. If you're a cop, get rid of the racists who've embedded themselves into the force and embrace community policing which works. Write testimonials (or better record video testimonials) for a product/good/or service that a POC friend has. That POC friend could do the same.

What Has Encouraged Me

Here's what has given me encouragement and hope recently:

  • The line of white women who used their privilege and stood in front of black protestors so that they wouldn't be harmed by the police.
  • The police who marched with protestors. This happened in a number of cities.
  • The black men who protected a police officer who got separated from his crew.
  • The Denver protester who was filmed calling out a person who was defacing the statue in front of the Colorado State Capital.
  • The often painful conversations and revelations that have been shared. We can't keep these things to ourselves.
  • The actions that people have taken. Speaking up, shutting things down, and being all in.
  • The love that has been sent my way from my friends of all colors who have checked on me and that I've checked on during this time. I've chosen well.

Figure out the answer to the following question “How does someone else doing well affect me?” There are a lot of people expending a lot of energy keeping people down. So you have to wonder why they fear people being equal or doing well.

Thank you for listening to the show, and I hope that you and yours are safe and well during these difficult times.

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1 year ago

I just wanted to send thanks to you both.

Thanks to Michelle for sharing her thoughts and how she has been impacted personally. This is not the first time I have heard this sentiment, but it breaks my heart each time: “I would like to get married and have two little boys who look like their dad. But, I’m afraid of having little boys that other people feel free to: harass and kill.”

And thank you J.D. for elevating other voices (especially today).

1 year ago

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story. I am your ally and stand with you.

J.D. my friend, I commend you for using your platform to share Michelle’s important words.

Black lives matter.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marla
Robert Oberhofer
Robert Oberhofer
1 year ago

Hi J.D, Michelle… Excellent article and I am very moved by what you are saying. Similar to you I cannot understand or comprehend the forces that want to foster inequality, separate by race/gender, promote privilege. I fit squarely into the white privilege bucket. Born in Germany, benefiting from good (& free!) education, I immigrated to Silicon Valley and had plenty of opportunities denied to many. While I love America I truly believe that there is a cancer eroding the virtues and values. I am not eloquent enough to describe it well, though it sits somewhere between a belief that one’s… Read more »

1 year ago

Very interesting and though provoking article. One of the things I started advocating for is changing section 1983 of our US code. Under that section the phrase “qualified immunity” was introduced. That basically shields government officials (and cops) from being sued or taken to jail. This code is also being used to protect cops who use excessive or deadly force. Unfortunately it “has become a nearly failsafe tool to let police brutality go unpunished and deny victums their constitutional rights” as summarized in a 2020 Reuters report. Here is an article that explains qualified immunity and why it needs to… Read more »

1 year ago

THANK YOU for talking about this! Thank you for using your platform to address this and using it to amplify the voices of those who live this far more than say, me. I really appreciate you being willing to delve into the ‘soft side’ (in my engineering industry managerial skills/dealing with people skills are often called “soft skills” ) of finances. Thanks for not just posting articles on how to buy more rental houses during this year of one disaster and tragedy after another….it may be true that you can grab houses for a deal, but it rather misses the… Read more »

1 year ago

Michelle, Thank you from the bottom of my white heart. I will never understand why people are more worried about business destruction than the life of a black man. People have that backwards, I believe. I do want to add a few examples to the discussion though. When I worked a summer in Hawaii as a sales clerk, I can’t count the number of times I was told “haole go home” which means white person get yourself off this land. It hurt. I taught over 30 years in inner city schools, by choice and which I loved (and edited textbooks… Read more »

1 year ago

Loooooong time reader, first time commenter. I’ve long been angry and disheartened by the (predominantly white) personal finance community’s refusal to discuss politics, a quite frankly tone-deaf and utterly privileged stance. Given the hostility of FinCon to people of color broadly, and women more specifically, will you continue to support and speak at FinCon?

J.D. Roth
1 year ago

¡Hola! I am only going to address your question here, not your premises. Will I continue to support and speak at Fincon? Yes. Fincon serves a valuable role in the personal-finance community. Obviously, there are problems. Some of these problems are severe. (Although, to be clear, some of the current accusations are false and/or as-yet unsubstantiated.) But these problems won’t be solved by me avoiding the conference. In fact, by attending and participating and leading, I’m much more likely to bring about positive change than by steering clear. I live in very liberal Portland, Oregon. Many of my friends hate… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Thank you for the in-depth response, and I appreciate the time you took to clarify your beliefs, choices, and stances. And you’re right that we have a difference of opinion about which actions to take, likely situated in the different positions we occupy in the personal finance space. I think that there are problems with the white-washing, male-centric space of FinCon that extend beyond the overt actions of the founder. I personally find the covert racism and misogyny (of the type that silences discussions about the politics and policy of money that inequitably affect women and racially minoritized peoples with… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I want to share one more thing that has been weighing on my mind from your response. You wrote, “There may be complaints about the event, but I haven’t heard them.” I have two thoughts about this: 1). I am making a complaint about this event to you right now on your blog. I know I am not a friend or acquaintance, just an internet commenter, but doesn’t this count? and 2). When we assess the inclusivity of our practices from our own inner circle, we may miss practices that alienate folks who feel too uncomfortable or unwelcome to join in the first place. I share… Read more »

J.D. Roth
1 year ago

Quick reply because I need to unwind before bed. Yes, you count. But you’re not making a specific complaint. You’re making generalized complaints. And while your generalized complaints may be completely valid, it’s not possible to reply to them because I have no idea what they’re referring to. And you’re anonymous. If one of my Fincon friends came to me and said, “Look, J.D., this is what I experience at Fincon and it sucks,” that would carry much more weight. Does that make sense? I agree with your point regarding being blind to inclusivity. Most of us are guilty of… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Someone I used to work with always made this frog analogy, and while cruel, is applicable… The way you boil a frog is by increasing the temperature slowly, rather than abruptly. Whenever I’ve tried to do things rapidly and abruptly, it either immediately backfired on me, or it only lasted for a short period of time before the great marshmallow of life went back to its original shape (yes, another analogy, but also one of merit; weight is a good example of that, too… lose it too quickly and abruptly, odds are you’ll… Read more »

1 year ago

Late to the discussion but I also wanted to say thank you for addressing this. Widening inequality, especially among people of color, is most definitely a personal finance matter. So it’s my opinion that this is a great forum for such discussions.