GRS Insider #92: Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a MORAL issue.

GRS Insider #92: Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a MORAL issue.

Yesterday, as I do most Fridays, I sent the GRS Insider to folks who subscribe to the Get Rich Slowly email list.

The email was unusual. It was more like a blog post than a simple summary of recent articles. I've had several people request a version they can share with other people, so — this one time only — I've created a stand-alone web version.

Parts of this have been edited slightly to account for the transition from email to web.

If you've been reading me for any length of time — or if you know me in person — you know that I hate conflict. I hate hate hate it. Some people seem to thrive on it. Not me. I shirk from it.

This is one reason I've steadfastly kept my financial writing politically neutral. I don't want conflict.

It helps that I'm neither liberal nor conservative. I'm some strange mix of the two. But mostly it's because I think financial advice is important for everyone regardless of political persuasion. It's rare that I take a stand on something political.

Because of who I am and what I believe, Get Rich Slowly will never become a political platform. (It'll touch on politics occasionally, but politics will never be a driving force at the site.)

That said, I'm mad as hell about not only the recent bout of racism in the U.S., but also the long history of racism that underpins our society. Something's gotta give. The current protests are 100% justified and they're not acts of terrorism. They're a call for action. What sort of action? I have no idea. I don't have solutions. But the problem is plain as day and it must be addressed. We, as a nation, must — at long last — deal with our history instead of sweeping it under the rug.

  • On May 15th, I saw video of the Ahmaud Arbery killing. I was mortified. I was livid. How could this happen in our country in 2020? Now, as more details of his execution are coming to light, the crime is even more heinous than I could have imagined. How can you read this and not be sickened?
  • On May 25th, I saw video of Amy Cooper, a white woman, calling the police about Christian Cooper, a black man who had asked her to put her dog on a leash. Amy blatantly lied, claiming that Christian was threatening her. All he wanted to do was watch birds in peace, and this woman was willing to ruin his life because he made a polite request. W. T. F.?
  • And the very next morning, I saw video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. We all know that story by now, and we all know what's come of it.

Look, I'm a 51-year-old white guy who lives in one of the whitest neighborhoods of one of the whitest states in the union. I live in a bubble. No joke: I can go weeks (months?) without ever seeing a black person. I am the definition of white privilege, and I know it.

But it's time for me to stop hiding behind that privilege — and to stop bristling at the term. It's time that I stopped using my conflict-avoidant tendencies as an excuse to never talk about controversial subjects. And, really, why is racism even controversial? Why is it considered a political issue? Racial equality and racial justice aren't political problems — they're moral problems. But they're moral problems that we must address, in part, at a political level.

This week, I wanted to use Get Rich Slowly to address this subject, but I couldn't see a way for me to do it effectively. First, as I said, I'm an old white guy. Second, I don't have the education yet to discuss these topics effectively. (More on how I'm trying to educate myself in a moment.)

So, I asked two of my friends if they'd help.

  • The ebullient Michelle Jackson shared a candid conversation about race in America. — “What you do when I'm not in the room when people are making jokes and comments says a lot about YOU…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.”
  • And the eloquent Lynnette Khalfani-Cox offered a lesson in economic violence. — “Imagine being born in 1866 as a ‘free' Black person. For generations, your ancestors worked for others and received nothing for their labor…And you, born in 1866 as a ‘free' Black person, start with nothing while a White child born at the same time enjoys the fruits of your ancestors' labor. Would that depress you? Anger you? Motivate you?” [This is very similar to what I want to write once I'm better educated.]

As you know, I generally spend a lot of my free time reading about money. (I'm a nerd like that.) This week, though, I read very little about money. I read about race. Here are some of the most interesting pieces I found.

  • How you can help close racial wealth gaps. [Smart Money Mamas] — “The racial wealth gap we see in our country today is part of the foundation of our nation. It started when we built an economic powerhouse of a country on the back of slave labor. And then, when we finally abolished slavery (mostly for economic reasons), we transferred essentially zero wealth to those who created that economic prosperity.” [Related: How big is the racial wealth gap?]
  • A sociologist examines the “white fragility” that prevents white Americans from confronting racism. [The New Yorker] — “DiAngelo addresses her book mostly to white people, and she reserves her harshest criticism for white liberals like herself…Not only do these people fail to see their complicity, but they take a self-serving approach to ongoing anti-racism efforts: ‘To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.'”
  • Unpacking the power of privileged neighborhoods. [CityLab] — “Research has shown that where children grow up affects how they fare academically, economically, and physically; it also predicts how they interact with the criminal justice system. This study confirms that neighborhoods do matter, but gives a new, surprising answer to questions like ‘for whom?’ and ‘how much?'” [Related: “My white privilege.”]

This week, I've also watched far more video than usual.

I watched how black parents teach their children to deal with the police.

And I watched an hour-long Google Talk about the “black tax”, about the high cost of being black in America.

But for me — for who I am — the most important video I watched was this ten-minute presentation from my colleague Julien Saunders. It's all about embracing conflict.

From the talk: “When you run from conflict, you give up an opportunity to change your life before you even start. When you embrace conflict…you come out the other side a better version of yourself.”

God, I hate conflict.

And I'm especially going to hate the conflict that comes from publishing this article. But you know what? The time is long past for me to stop prioritizing my personal comfort over the safety (and equality) of others. If one week of articles about the evils of racism is enough to make you leave Get Rich Slowly, so be it.

But I hope that most GRS readers are just as angry as I am.

Finally, in an effort to educate myself and address my own issues — because let's be clear, I have plenty of implicit racial bias — I've begun reading more about this subject. Here are a few of the books I've picked up (all of which were recommended by readers and colleagues). Note that these are not affiliate links.

Here's the bottom line: As much as I hate conflict, I hate hate even more. One of the things that drew me to Kim as a partner is that she embodies LOVE. She loves everyone. I can't say that I love everyone. But I try. And I wish that others would try too.

One of my friends recently said something profound in a group conversation, something I agree with 100%:

People are basically good

It's an amazing thing to work from the premise that everyone is basically good, that everyone is unique and has something important to say. Life is more interesting when you give other people the benefit of the doubt, when you assume the best in them instead of the worst. Working from this premise makes the world a glowing, wonderful place, a place packed with superstars. I wish more people could see that.

True story: When I was in college in the 1980s, Maya Angelou came to speak on our campus. I was charged with giving her a tour of the grounds for an hour or two before her presentation. I had no idea who she was. And I didn't go hear her speak. I had a pleasant time showing her the library, the botanical garden, and the theater, but I never asked her about herself and her life. (Same thing with Studs Terkel, who has become one of my personal heroes.) Ah, missed opportunities…

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Jordan Kinsley
Jordan Kinsley
2 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

From one privileged white guy to another, much respect to you for putting this out there!! I’ve been disgusted by racism since I “discovered” it as a kid, but I never quite understood the fact that ‘silence is violence’ until now. It’s incumbent upon us to speak up whenever we have the opportunity… especially those of us who live in “white” neighborhoods and work in overwhelmingly white, male professions. Keep up the great work!

Zoot
Zoot
2 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Count me in as a NEW subscriber. <3

JC Webber III
JC Webber III
2 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Thank you JD. As a 70yo white guy I struggle to know what to do. This issue has been on my mind for years. I remember leaving a neighbor’s house early one night when we were invited there for diner. Those people turned out to be quite racist and my father and mother got up and took us right out of there before we even had diner. I think I was about 10 (1960). We never had ‘the talk’ about racism in my house, but we just knew it was wrong. Another time my father came home with a humungous… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by JC Webber III
Donna
Donna
1 month ago
Reply to  JC Webber III

Wow JC, I’m so glad I read your comment. Your story about your father is eye opening for me. I have been guilty of describing people by their race and haven’t thought much about it. But it changes the story and it shouldn’t. Thanks.

Kristi Curtin
Kristi Curtin
2 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

From another white conflict avoiding 50 year old woman who lives in Portland Oregon, I applaud your post. This is what is needed. Silence is not an option for anyone. It never was – we are learning – we will do better. Thank you!

Patti
Patti
1 month ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I am so glad that JD wrote this post– count me in as someone who sent a positive email that also included some critique of the post. I have greatly benefited from Get Rich Slowly and JD’s advice throughout the last ten years and I deeply respect him. It’s long bothered me that many in the personal finance blogging world have taken a hands off approach to politics or things that are policy related. Racism and sexism are tied to economic opportunity (among all the other isms) and are policy related. Who can get a loan? Who can get a… Read more »

Markola
Markola
2 months ago

Hi JD, I must be looking in the wrong place, because I can’t see the 90 comments. I live in St. Paul and about 5 blocks from the governor’s residence, where we attended a large protest on Monday (I think! These days are a blur). One of the sign slogans that stuck with me was “White Silence = Violence.” You’ve made a brave choice to take a position and to use your platform, itself made possible by your good habits and financial independence, to confront and attempt to understand racism. You’re apparently losing some readers because of it. That’s inevitable.… Read more »

jason
jason
2 months ago

I would recommend reading White Fragility first. You need to put your head in the right space to understand and empathize with the rest of the material. Then rewatch that James Ramsey link. It will be eye opening.

Alicia
Alicia
2 months ago
Reply to  jason

Agree. I’m glad to see JD admit that he has a lot more work to do and also recommend reading White Fragility and learning more about the economic history of black people in America. I had to turn off that Ramsey interview 7 minutes in because it was just so blatantly tone deaf. The way he spoke over the black commentator and stated explicitly that he didn’t hire anyone because of their race or gender was just so ignorant. These characteristics shouldn’t be ignored, but rather embraced and valued for the differing perspective and life experience that comes along with… Read more »

Elle
Elle
2 months ago

Well done. As I (another white privilege person who understands that I am) educate myself in much the same manner as you are, I stand with Black Lives Matter. I have black and brown nieces and nephews and they deserve the same peaceful and safe life that I have.

Those who left make me sad.

Keep up the great work! And thank you for taking a risk and taking a stand!

Pete
Pete
2 months ago

No conflict from me at least for you. 🙂 I live close enough to hear the protests at 38th and Chicago so I definitely have seen a lot of this first hand and maybe, just maybe, this time will see changes. That murder was unlike anything ever. It wasn’t a quick decision by an officer or something that can be reasoned away; it was simply terrible. Never did I want something terrible to have to happen but unfortunately, it did because we (I’m a mid-40s white guy) haven’t done enough. I also hate conflict. But I’m working on not letting… Read more »

Megan
Megan
2 months ago

Thank you for this J.D. I also struggle with always wanting to avoid conflict. You encourage me to try to be less avoidant too. As a privileged white lady with two kids, my biggest lesson from this time is to keep having the uncomfortable conversations with my kids, including the conversation about racism in our society.

Lisa perez
Lisa perez
2 months ago

J.D. thanks for this write up. I believe racism is very much an economic issue as well as a moral one. I have a recording of Maya Angelo’s presentation at Willy U if you’d like to know what you missed – it was the highlight of my university experience. Jealous you got to spend so much time with her ! Best –

Alix
Alix
2 months ago

Thank you for posting this! I’m a long time reader and follow through and RSS feed. I don’t comment, but felt compelled to respond. I’m a Latina who is very interested in person finance. But I stopped following many blogs and content creators because of the implicit and explicit racism and classism – just a complete lack of understanding that not all tools are available to all people. I really appreciate you being open and honest about your self-education . There is so much overlap between personal finance and the institutional barriers to building wealth and I look forward to… Read more »

MK
MK
2 months ago
Reply to  Alix

I am also a woman of color and completely agree! J.D., thank you for taking time to address this here. We need to see more compassion and self-awareness like this in personal finance circles. Your integrity is very much why you’re one of the few writers about money that I’ve stayed with.

Melissa "Yi" Yuan-Innes
Melissa "Yi" Yuan-Innes
1 month ago
Reply to  MK

Hi Alix & MK. Third woman of colour over here! Newly subscribed, J.D. Thanks for recognizing racism and risking conflict. I really enjoyed the FIRE community until I realized there’s often an undercurrent of selfishness that doesn’t work for many BIPOC and/or any community-minded people. If you FIRE, your next job is to lift other people up. Pretty sure Maya Angelou would’ve agreed. Some FIRE-relevant Angelou quotes: “We need much less than we think we need.” “Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” She was a wise woman.… Read more »

Michael Schneider
Michael Schneider
2 months ago

Thank you for posting your note here and for the email. This is why I read your posts (and your guest’s posts). I am moved by your honesty and humility. Racism IS a personal finance issue. Your blog helps identify the critical values we need to understand to improve our selves and our communities. The overwhelming positive response to your notes is all the proof you need.

Janette
Janette
2 months ago

I, simply, do not know what to do.

Thank you for writing this post and exploring this topic. I hope you keep going.

G.E. Miller
G.E. Miller
2 months ago

JD – Hope you have been well, may man. As a longtime personal finance writer myself, I’m similarly aware of the risks and fears with broaching any political subject. People are so easily offended these days if you bring any sort of political opinion or even neutral discussion to the table. People have convenient information bubbles, and they don’t like when you poke them. Frankly, it’s maddening. Almost every part of our lives are touched by politics, and to suppress public discussion and debate and that part of your life is not good for the soul or our civics. So,… Read more »

Alice
Alice
2 months ago

Very thoughtful post. Well put together. I’m glad that at least one of your recommendations included the phrase “anti-racist.” It seems that most of us are quick to say, “I’m not a racist.” But that’s not enough. We need to be anti-racists.

Cofrog
Cofrog
2 months ago

For all of you that don’t know what to do- I’ve felt the same way. I, like JD live in a part of that country that doesn’t have a lot of POC. Speaking out and having conversations is a big part of the change. Embracing the conversation (not conflict, JD, but conversation) is a huge part. But for all of us whom are financially well off, we should also think about using our money for good. I’ve been rethinking my charitable giving in the past few years and this movement has spurred me to add charities to my list that… Read more »

Joe
Joe
2 months ago

Thanks for posting this. Not being a racist isn’t enough anymore. We should be anti racists. The playing field is not level for black and brown Americans. The economy will improve a lot if they have the same opportunities as everyone else, IMO.

Also, the police department needs to change. They use too much force on so many people. It’s all coming to light.

Katherine Keller
Katherine Keller
2 months ago

I’d also like to say that, on top of the moral issue, racism is also public funds issue and a personal finance issue: prosperity leads to a strong tax base, which means there is more money to spend on things like roads, public schools, public health, social services, and public research institutes. All of these contribute to the economic engine of a region: Good roads –> more effective transportation of products, less downtime for businesses. Good public schools –> more self actualizations, opportunity, and innovations, as well as smarter, better, life choices. Good public health –> less overall illness, so… Read more »

Daphne
Daphne
1 month ago

Thanks JD. Your voice means a lot to white people because you are a white male. I am a white-passing black woman who has often kept my mouth shut out of fear, so I understand what you mean. In America, so much of black culture is viewed of as lesser (while also stolen and parroted) that you feel you have no choice but to just keep it out of white spaces. I’m part of the reason some white people get away with this. At the same time, I would never trade in my blackness, which almost feels like an automatic… Read more »

Beatriz
Beatriz
1 month ago

Thank you for this post! I have been very disgusted with other finance bloggers and their characterization of racism as “freedom of speech!” I am a Latina and long-time follower of yours and you have justified my loyalty by making your views clear. I don’t like conflict either but if there ever was a time to take a stand, this is it.

Verónica Po
Verónica Po
1 month ago

Thank you so much for using your platform to speak about these important issues. Racism is absolutely a moral issue and not a “difference of opinion.” Also, not acknowledging racism is racist in itself because it presents more obstacles in the fight against it. Something must exist in order to change it. Thanks again.

Owner
Owner
1 month ago

Great post JD. You have my full support.

Loretta
Loretta
1 month ago

Another middle aged, conflict-avoidant white person (female, Australian). Long time reader, first time commenter. We have our own issues here and I am finally going to listen, learn and try and understand, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. Thank you for your post.

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