- As a personal finance influencer, I know many fellow influencers who avoid talking about how race and politics affect finances.
- But I think they're wrong to avoid those topics because race and politics affect Americans' access to wealth-building tools.
- Without those tools, no amount of personal responsibility, penny pinching, or strategizing can close the racial wealth gap.
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I've lost track of the number of times I've heard the following phrase from personal finance influencers: "Personal finance is personal." Meaning, there's no place for race or politics in conversations about money.
They're totally correct in stating that a person's experiences, knowledge, and habits affect what they do with their money. But I disagree with the "no race or politics" school of thought and think there is a nuance to this conversation that everyone is missing.
Your personal financial habits are defined by your access
Ultimately, I think that many influencers who push back on the inclusion of race, politics, and policy in financial conversations may be focusing solely on what individuals are in control of as it relates to their money.
Things like your savings decisions, spending choices related to your daily life are you a shopaholic or a penny pincher? big-ticket purchases and money decisions, such as the car you purchase or the college you decide to attend, and small incidental purchases, such as the avocado toast or daily latte decisions that build up as an expense over time.
If our personal finances were only affected by our personal decisions and free will, then I would 100% agree that there is no place in personal finance to discuss race or politics. But, it's my view that race and politics directly affect many Americans' access to the tools that would allow them to build wealth and create generational financial change. Their access is blocked by bias related to gender and/or race.
Bias in lending and hiring directly affect the type of access that many people of color and women have to the following:
- The ability to earn an income that will enable them to purchase a home
- Be approved for a home mortgage
Access is the key to many of the personal finance conversations that influencers are having, but they might not be understanding the lived experiences of groups they're not a part of or hearing what other people have to say.
Emma from Nurse Fern observed the following:
"Our favorite thing to say as personal finance bloggers is that the nuts and bolts are simple, it's the execution that is difficult. Well, for a large part of the population, the nuts and bolts AND the execution is even more difficult because of race and politics. We should be talking about this and how to change why blanket advice won't work for everyone and sharing ways to make it more equal."
Why personal finance influencers should be talking about race
Personal finance influencers are already having taboo conversations related to money a topic so many people avoid so it shouldn't be a problem to discuss the intersection of race, politics, and wealth during those conversations.
No one is arguing that influencers should pretend to understand what it's like to be a woman, a Black person, or even a white male. The point of pushing these conversations is to:
- Acknowledge that each person has a lived financial experience that may be different from your own
- Encourage deeper conversations that require all of us to think critically about data that is accessible to all of us and force ourselves to ask some pointed questions about the financial data that we're being presented
- Serve our audiences better
- Be candid when we are unfamiliar with someone else's lived experience
Taking an intersectional approach to personal finance is critical
I'm not arguing that every article a personal finance influencer writes has to share data from every ethnic group, gender, or region of the US. That would be unmanageable. What I'm saying is that by avoiding these conversations, we're avoiding acknowledging that there are many people who have amazing personal finance habits but are impacted by policies that will affect their finances their entire lives.
For example, a study published recently by WBEZ and City Bureau in Illinois found that banks in the Chicago area were lending at a rate of 68.1% to white areas compared to 8.1% and 8.7% in Black and Hispanic areas.
How can Black and Hispanic individuals in the Chicago area and elsewhere in the US gain better access to mortgage lending and leverage equity in their homes if they can't even get a loan?
What about access to jobs? Most personal finance influencers would argue that after developing great financial habits, access to good-paying jobs is the next step to changing your finances. But what if you're not getting hired at the same rate as other groups? According to a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, African Americans are still experiencing the same level of hiring discrimination as in 1990.
Also, once someone is hired on, will they be compensated at a rate that's equitable to other employees in the company? As Athena Lent of Money Smart Latinas says, the answer is no.
"OK so I think it's pretty impossible to not bring up race, but I especially think it's important to discuss when speaking about earning potential.
I can't save what I don't earn. As a Latina, I statistically make the lowest out of any minority woman, at 53 cents per every white man's dollar . So I can do all the work yet still have a 50% gap in lifetime earnings. That puts me behind in everything, including retirement. This is just one example of why we need to be having these discussions."
When I reached out to other personal influencers about this topic, a couple got salty with me because they seemed to think that I wanted to censure what they could write about on their websites.
Not at all.
I'm simply encouraging personal finance influencers to have deeper, more substantive conversations about money and better serve the people who follow our content.
It's my view that there is now a willingness to have deeper conversations about race, politics, and money because of the times we're living in. I'll keep you posted.
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