This Antonio Moore video, “The Racial Wealth Gap Explained in 60 Seconds,” has inspired me to write about my financial history in terms that is useful/accessible to the Black experience—not a “general” financial audience:
By the way, I regard this video as a first in Black history. I assert that this is the first Internet video produced by a Black American (outside of an educational institution) that is driven by motion graphics based on data. Antonio Moore is following in the data visualization footsteps of none other than W.E.B. Du Bois. Remember, kids, Du Bois was (arguably) the first sociologist in the United States. Notice, kids, I did not write ‘first black sociologist.’
(Sidebar: It may help Antonio Moore and the Breaking Brown audience to review and reflect on “The Philadelphia Negro A Social Study” by W.E.B. Du Bois. It should help to remember that Du Bois prepared this study as an appeal to “white logic” and their legendary objectivity juxtaposed on the alarmingly high African American infant mortality rate. My history teacher, Dr. Gerald Horne, taught us that this sincere, naive attempt fell on deaf ears and betrayed the irrational emotionalism in front of what Dr. Amos Wilson calls “rational racism.” You can listen, by the way, to Dr. Wilson talk about this in “Doctoral Warriors for the African Mind”—click on the track shown in the image at right.)
My Financial Highlights
Antonio Moore (and Yvette Carnell) are breathing fresh air on Black-on-black objectivity. This will be confused as black-on-black violence by most of the black people I have ever met (especially the ladies) erroneously framed under “emotional abuse.” I mention this because my highlights below will definitely sound abusive while the intention is to be objective.
My parents (divorced in 1977) were actively idealistic about my education and my development of character. This is the most important fact about my financial life. My parents were not fair-weather bullshitters about my character and the expectations around my level of education attainment. My father in particular never told me that an education would make everything “all right.” My mother was essentially preparing me for intellectual warfare. My mother taught me how to read personally. In terms of racial consciousness, all of this effort from my parents was done not for some implied “approval” from whites—rather to defend myself against them. I was put on the path toward education without assimilation. Knowledge was never associated with a “white” ethnic trait in my family. Thoughts came from the power of a Christian God that was superior to “race.”
I had to work while I was on college. I had to compete directly with college students that had time to reflect on the subject of study while I was working at places like Sears Automotive. This absence from the campus culture made it less likely for me to develop relationships with (possibly more affluent) students that might form a substantial business network after college. I entered college in almost complete social isolation and I left college in almost complete isolation. (It must be mentioned that my father paid the first two years or so of my tuition in college—and in a fit of macho-son giddiness I contributed my entire life’s savings, maybe $900, as well.)
My first decade as an adult was burdened with student debt and child-support payments. Most Americans—even middle-class Americans—will emerge from higher education in debt. What might be typical about being non-white is to have more debt than student debt. In my case, I had to pay child support as well as my student loan. I graduated from UCSB with a degree in physics in 1991. In 2008 I took a picture of my last Child Support Services payment. That is over an entire decade of being financially unable of saving aggressively. Every fact listed in this paragraph is the first indicator to an upper class person that I am not a member of their class. This hypothetical upper-class person may dare to assume that due to my low social standing and limited resources of my family that I had access to “poor quality” women (when I add the fact that my first wife was also a college student that could qualify for child support we can clearly see how I was excluded from access to upper-class “high quality” women). Associating with these women (coupled with my irresponsible fertility) causes financial burdens.
My first decade as an adult featured ‘infrastructure costs’ that a communicating extended family would have covered. I am using the phrase ‘infrastructure costs’ to refer to common household items like ironing boards, irons, dish racks, light bulbs—dozens upon dozens of “small” purchases that incur debt and/or prevent saving. To an authentic middle-class family these purchases would have been largely unnecessary for two reasons: the family would have supplied these miscellaneous items with condescending ease or the family would have supplied fully furnished housing.
My family supplied me with unfurnished housing with discounted rent. I am pleased to mention for the first time some small indication of black-family privilege in terms of what Antonio Moore calls wealth transfer. My father’s mother provided me with an apartment in Inglewood, CA (behind her garage) from 1992 to about 1996. For that entire time the rent was about $550. By no means were the accommodations luxurious but without this wealth transfer from my family something extreme would have happened.
My mother gave me her 1979 Ford Fairmont. I used this vehicle to transport me out of college and into the job market. This is my second, major wealth transfer. This unglamorous car can be considered a contraceptive—but I thank my mother anyway!
I opened and maintained a 401K for less than five years. According to the data made famous by Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell, the fact that I opened a 401K account through a former employer is highly unusual in the post-baby-boomer, black world. I treated this move as an academic exercise. This means I was ignorant of the social/emotional discouragement of having a small amount of money invested (matched by the employer).
I rolled over my 401K into an IRA account that allowed me to invest in the stock market. Were I to proclaim out of context that I increased my 401K by over 50% by investing in the stock market many, many young people may misunderstand what I am trying to say. I am not saying that the stock market is “the only way” to increase income and “everyone” should invest. The reality is this was my version of a desperate survival move. I was unable to contribute cash to my IRA (like the stereotypical/mythical “middle-class” non-black person). Returns from the stock market was a terrible fallback for being unable to contribute to my IRA. To strip all of the glamour out of these revelations, this 50% increase I am “bragging” about took place over a decade—a hard, miserable decade typified by vulgar/consumer debt.
I replaced student-loan debt with vulgar consumer debt which prevented me from saving for most of my adult life. Government policy for most of my adult life meant that my time as a permanent employee (with benefits like a 401K) was extremely limited. My career path made me a contractor. Being a contractor effectively made me unable to save money—because, for me, the 401K has been the best way for me to systematically save money. What I am saying is that I have been an idiot. I could have done better. My relationship with consumer credit was mostly idiotic—my 30s were characterized by using almost all of my income to pay down (not pay off) credit cards. There were at least two opportunities to escape vulgar/consumer credit oppression in my 30s presented to me and both of them failed: (i) the Advanta Credit card with its sub-10% interest rate (this card was literally destroyed by the Chase Manhattan Bank takeover in the 1990s) and (ii) the UCLA Credit Union sub-10% interest rate personal loans (I was laid off from UCLA when Arnold became Governor of California and budget cuts ensued).
My Black-Ass Optimism
In the same manner that a murderer of adults distinguishes herself from a murderer of children, I am actually wasting time here mentioning that I never cashed-out a 401K account prematurely. I never let my oppressive, vulgar, credit card debt go delinquent. But I did all of these “great” things at the expense of never having “extra” cash on hand. I have only recently formed a functional interest in saving money (as I now understand that saving can be used borrow money from myself—without the need of being a permanent employee of a corporation—and I also understand that money has to sit on an abstract platform that is made out of money).
I assume that I will reach “retirement age” with enough funds to make a down payment on one of my children’s property (I am biased for my only daughter) and have little left over for me to move to another, cheaper country where some beautiful woman (and her family) will rob me. Lord, please don’t let me die within the borders of the United States.