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A wealthy money expert with five businesses who was low-balled on her home appraisal and overcharged on her insurance—most likely because she’s Black.
A best-selling author who could only secure venture capital for her business when a White man introduced her to investors.
A musical icon who was never taught about investing growing up, and ultimately had to fire the business accountant who frittered away her earnings.
In June, following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black lives—and in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests happening all across the country—I dedicated nearly 12 episodes of my podcast “So Money” to amplifying the experiences of many outstanding Black individuals in a series called #BlackWealthMatters.
“So Money” has always been committed to diversity, but I wanted to take more time to learn (and unlearn) about the racial wealth gap, and how race and racism interfere with wealth building, specifically in the Black community.
Financial guru Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, author Tiffany Dufu, Queen Latifah, and others helped me to better understand what it means to be Black in America: to fight racism and try to achieve career and financial success at the same time.
My list of learnings from the series is long, but here are seven key takeaways that illuminate just how far we have to go.
Saying, “If I can do it, so can you,” is irresponsible.
I’ve been guilty of this. What I thought was a humble admission or a way to inspire and motivate people is, I realize now, an inaccurate and misleading expression.
“The advice can’t just be, ‘Hey, go out there and work and put your mind to it,’” Dr. Nicole Garner Scott, founder of Atlanta-based advisory Amount Financial Services told me. “It doesn’t acknowledge the systemic things that prevent certain groups from advancing.”
In the past, when I shared how I successfully negotiated a raise or started my business, I failed to acknowledge something quite significant beyond my own hard work. I never considered or gave credit to the fact being a light-skinned Iranian-American woman provided me with more access. That’s a privilege that I will acknowledge more and can leverage to help others.
This movement is about equity, not just equality.
Black people deserve equality as a basic human right. But during a conversation with my former editorial assistant and journalist (and author of a forthcoming book) Donovan Ramsey, he explained that equality isn’t enough.
Equality is treating everyone the same, whereas equity is giving everyone — based on their individuality — the resources and support they need to be as successful as others.
“I want equity,” he said. “For me, my ceiling is not equality with someone else. I want everything that I’m entitled to. I think that’s really what Black Americans across the board are calling for: the freedom to be able to move freely and to explore and expand who I am. Because it is hard to even think about those things when you’re thinking about race all the time.” I like how the non-profit The Education Trust summarizes this idea: “Equality has become synonymous with ‘leveling the playing field.’ So let’s make equity synonymous with ‘more for those who need it.’”
‘Racial wealth gap’ needs a new name.
First of all, it’s not really a gap. It’s a chasm. A new Northwestern University study found that, on average, for every one dollar of accumulated wealth a White family has, a Black family has just one penny.
As my guest Yemi Rose, a former banking VP, explained, the inadequate term “racial wealth gap” does very little to incite a movement. It deserves a name that more accurately mirrors the true depths of the economic calamity.
“[The expression] always struck me as just not enough,” Rose said. “I called it something like the ‘pestilent cavity of economic apartheid,’ because that’s where we are. We are in essentially an economic apartheid.”
Rose founded OfColor, a digital financial wellness platform that focuses on providing content and banking tools built around how people of color save, spend, and build their legacies differently.
Financial literacy is key — but so is access.
Nearly all my guests discussed the importance of financial literacy in helping to close the frightening disparity. Queen Latifah told a story about her mother helping her open a savings account at a young age — a good move, although she says now that learning about investing would have been even more valuable. Later in life, Latifah had to fire an accountant who left the recording icon with “no money in the bank.”
Stephanie Vaught, founder of the Detroit-based Social Money Finance, which educates Gen Xers about money, discussed the ways Black people have been left out of conversations and instruction related to financial education—including how to gain access to products, services, and resources. This has far-reaching effects. “It translates to homeownership, your political power, your ability to open a business, your ability to have access to capital,” she told me.
For example, Black people are more routinely denied mortgages, making it more difficult for them to become homeowners and build long-term wealth in that way.
And if they do receive home loans, it’s not all smooth sailing. One study found that Black homeowners tend to be charged higher interest rates than White borrowers.
Being rich doesn’t mean you won’t experience racism.
Money isn’t a magical equalizer. Financial guru Tiffany Aliche, aka “The Budgetnista,” said she recently dealt with discrimination even as a highly accomplished, wealthy Black woman. It was a sobering reminder that money and power don’t provide protection against racism.
“I am someone who checked all the boxes,” Aliche explained. “I have my master’s [degree]. I have five businesses, one of which earns eight figures. And yet there are some things that even I can’t escape because I’m Black.”
She recently had her Newark, New Jersey, home appraised, and was surprised when its value came in suspiciously below market. This isn’t uncommon. A Brooking Institute and Gallup study found that homes in majority Black neighborhoods are consistently devalued by an average of $48,000 less nationwide than similar homes in White-occupied neighborhoods.
Aliche also cited another instance when she learned she was grossly overpaying for homeowners insurance. When she tried to renegotiate, she felt the insurance company wouldn’t budge because her city is predominantly Black.
The insurance industry has had a long battle with the Department of Housing and Urban Development over alleged discriminatory practices. The industry claims that it arrives at prices for policies using complex risk factors and that race is not intentionally part of that math.
Financial services should focus on products, not just marketing, to better meet the needs of Black consumers and investors.
After decades of working in financial services, Yemi Rose believes that the industry as a whole should do more to build customized products and services for communities of color. “Financial services will take the same exact products and they’ll market it [by having] a commercial in the middle of Fresh Off the Boat, or something and they will say, ‘OK, done!’” But a shift in marketing is not the solution, he explained.
“There are tons of products out there just waiting to be built,” he said. “We know, for example, that Black Americans rely more on insurance than inheritance to pass on wealth for future generations. Yet we don’t build products specifically around legacy creation for the population.”
“Ultimately, you need to create these products and you need investors to back the creation of these products. [They need] to be able to say, ‘This is something specific that we’re building that will meet your needs.’ We don’t see that for populations of color.”
Raising venture capital when you’re Black is nearly impossible.
This was a statistic brought to light by Tiffany Dufu, bestselling author of Drop the Ball and founder of TheCru.com, while we discussed her experience raising her first million dollars.
“Very quickly, I ran up against the reason why that number is so low, and it’s because the venture world is quite insular,” she said. “For the most part, venture capitalists take meetings with people who they have some connection to. If you are not a person who’s a part of that community, if you don’t necessarily have the connections, then you’re at a disadvantage.”
To fight those odds, she focused on landing a sponsor who would leverage his social and political capital, make introductions, and vouch for her.
“Anytime somebody would ask me, ‘Do you need help with anything?’ I would say. ‘Yes. I’m looking for a white man who’s in Silicon Valley, an operator, maybe a founder. I need for him to have some level of objectivity and be able to make introductions for me. He needs to have some time on his hands.”
Eventually, she found someone who would help, but her experience is a rare one.
And just imagine a world where she didn’t have to jump through those hoops?