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.
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
- How to Be an Anti-Racist
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (I'm starting with this)
- The Hate U Give
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%:
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…