The Financial Pitfalls of Going to School In Racial Isolation
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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Knowing Your Value
For Lee, however, the problem wasn’t overspending. Aside from a brief stint with credit card debt early in college, he is not prone to debt. His issue came in the ways in which he valued himself and his work.

“When the film came out and I was touring, lecturing, and doing screenings, I began to notice that I would willingly accept lower fees than white filmmakers, even though I had more talent and experience. This created big problems for me financially at a time when I should have been cashing in on my work,” says Lee.

Lee said his friend and mentor Miko Branch, co-creator of Miss Jessie’s haircare products, pointed out his pattern and provided him with the support he needed to turn his behavior around.

“She really helped me understand that there is nothing wrong with me. I come from a situation in which my family did not have an opportunity to build wealth, and I needed to pay attention to how that was playing out: I had deep-seated feelings of unworthiness, and a belief that money should be a struggle. It’s amazing how when you open your eyes, you see this so clearly in your financial patterns,” says Lee.

“I now have set fees and I don’t waiver. My finances are reflecting that. I’m building savings and financial security. I would have never believed I could turn my life around this way without her ongoing mentoring and support,” he adds.

“Having a person, or a support group you can trust around these conversations can help provide grounding and cut through the isolation,” says Kinder.

More Than a Wealth Gap
While many blacks, particularly those who grew up with solid financial resources, downplay the realities of racial isolation, experts say if you don’t think it’s had an impact, you’re kidding yourself. It’s simply not possible to grow up a different color than almost everyone in the room and not have it impact your psyche. “I tell people it’s like the feeling a white person has when they walk into an all-black church. What blacks who grew up in racial isolation have to realize is that this feeling has become normal to them and affected their decisions,” says Tracey Laszloffy, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and an expert in race relations.

If you think the remnants of growing up in racial isolation may be affecting you or your loved ones:

Get clear on your goals and your budget: “Keeping your eyes on the prize of your personal aspirations can keep you from these behaviors,” says Kinder. Experts also say that a telltale sign is to look at the financial habits of people in your racial and income group who do not battle this issue of isolation. “If you’re spending on schools, vacations, and restaurants in an attempt to keep up with people who have more income and assets than you, you may have a problem,” says Timmons.

Be honest with yourself: “You have to see if you’ve turned the experience into a positive in your emotional and financial life, or if it’s a hindrance. Psychologically we all remain the class we were raised within. There is a tendency to use money to acquire so-called ‘markers of success and value’ to try and offset the effects of pervasive devaluation,” says Laszloffy.

Don’t be afraid to get counseling: If you suspect racial dynamics are playing out in your financial life, get professional help. You can contact the Financial Therapy Association for a list of financial therapists in your area. Be sure to mention that you are looking for someone with expertise on race in financial matters.

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