Riches Within Our Reach
With Education, Discipline and Some Sacrifice, Black Wealth Can Be Achieved
My COUSIN BOBBY was buried in a designer suit, but he died broke. He made plenty of money using his boomer generation MBA to get good jobs at Ford Motor Company and later at Honda in Marysville, Ohio. He loved automobiles. His gas-guzzling Jeep Cherokee was spotless, but hardly paid for. He had maxed out most of his seven credit cards on designer clothes.
Bobby was always as clean as his Mama’s chitlins.
He was divorced and faithfully paying child support for his two beautiful children. His definition of community service was when the community was helping to serve his monthly sales quotas.
Bobby had some good, honest side hustles, but he was always running on empty. His well-appointed two-bedroom condo north of Columbus, Ohio, ate up nearly half his take-home pay. So his lifestyle meant he was good at robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Bobby reminded me of the joke about the optimist who jumped from a 12-story building. As he passes the third floor, he says, “So far, so good,” not realizing that he’s about to crash.
He died of a heart attack at 54. At the reading of his one-page will, there was little to distribute to his children. The creditors and IRS got most of it. He was house poor, car poor and stuff poor; his children would have to start from scratch, just as he had. I thought if he only had treated his wealth with the same pride and support with which he treated his family and friends, he would have died rich.
This forced me to reflect on two things. Were we living Dr. King’s dream of economic development?. Was I, too, suffering from economic illiteracy and a compulsive spending disorder driven by what many believe to be the United States’ reckless marketing of easy credit and a mass media focus on materialism and instant gratification? Or, was I driven by low self-esteem, the remnants of hundreds of years of oppression and denial producing a personal philosophy that dictates high social status as more important than financial freedom? Perhaps there is a little of both lurking below the surface of still too many “successful” African-Americans, who end up in debt and support every institution but their own.
According to Target Market News (www.Targetmarketnews.com), a Web site and publishing company that tracks Black consumer spending, Blacks spend an excessive amount of money on depreciable goods, such as clothes, cars, jewelry and other things that lose value the minute after you purchase it. And Black teens are modeling adult spending patterns. For instance, in an online article “Black Spending Power” (www.righteousminds.com), author Kimel Empilder notes that African-American males between the ages of 13 and 24, who are less than 3 percent of total U.S. population, account for 10 percent of the $12 billion athletic shoe market, buying more than 1 out of 5 pairs of shoes made by Nike.
“We live in a consumer society where sport shopping is the way we live. We feel good, we buy. We feel bad, we buy,” points out economist and author Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College. “When we deal with the African American psyche: We come from a culture of lack. We have not had access, opportunity, or equality. Some of us think we can bridge the equality gap in spending. We can spend with the big boys, even though we do not have big boy wealth-we don’t have three percent of the wealth whites have. But, we can buy name brands to fill up a hole that says we may be inadequate. We can step up and spend up. To what end? If we understand the psychological reasons we spend heavily, we may be able to stop spending.”
I know God loves poor people. I learned that in church. But doesn’t he like rich people, too? I hear him saying, “Yes, yes, yes!”
God knew that a slow but determined path to freedom and civil rights would better position African-Americans to complete their third and final moral imperative: to close the income and wealth gap between Blacks and Whites in America.
In spite of disproportionate Black poverty, African-Americans have patiently built a critical mass of intellectual and financial resources from which they can leverage to close the gap. It includes trillions of dollars of intellectual and human capital and a $900 billion-plus annual economic base, which is growing at about 5 percent a year. It also includes having built a work force in which over 60 percent of its members are in executive, managerial, supervisory, sales, administrative, vocational, technical and business ownership positions.
W.E.B. Du Bois would be proud that nearly 17 percent of African-Americans have at least a four-year college degree or better, surpassing his vision of the “Talented Tenth.” But the long road to success in never straight. We have witnessed this in our 250-year fight for freedom and our 100-year fight for civil rights, voting rights and public access. The next 100-year imperative is our need to focus on economic development and the intergenerational transfer of our wealth.
It is not easy to invest for the future. It requires living below your means, when most are living above their means or within their means. It requires education, discipline and some sacrifice. But it’s worth it. Your wealth is your freedom, freedom to choose. It is the management of your choices that is the essence of living. God wants you to have unlimited choices; therefore, God wants you to be rich. It’s time to stop making dreams come true for the banks, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and BMW. It’s time to make our and Dr. King’s dreams come true.
George C. Fraser, CEO, Founder FraserNet Inc.
Author; Success Runs In Our Race and Click; Ten Truth for Building Extraordinary Relationships. Visit http://www.frasernet.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
George C. Fraser