The FIRE movement has an elephant in the room.
music selection: “Fantasy” — Mariah Carey
weigh-in: 204.0 +2.4 – Yikes!
I sometimes evangelize for the FIRE movement when out and about running errands. I was at the liquor store Friday in the early afternoon. Did a little chit-chat with the cashier (a lovely black woman who has worked there for quite some time.) She asked if I had the day off and I let her know I was Early Retired. I also asked if she had any plans to retire early herself. I got a somewhat violent response, “That shit is for white people!!!”
Your mighty Lizard King was taken a little aback. I’ve spent the weekend doing some thing about economic opportunity, race, FIRE, and inequality. I have also been thinking about a really fascinating study one of my cohorts during my MBA days did for our business research writing class: “Why are there so few black MBAs and CPAs?”
I hope this article starts a vibrant discussion (no trolls, please. I’ll delete your comment.) I am going to express some opinions in this article, some of which might be controversial. I swear I’m not being racist (said every racist, ever; right?) I am however intending to be racial. That is, I am going to unashamedly talk about race issues with my best effort to do so without a lick of malice.
First, I’ll have to talk about me. I was born white (curiously, I have stayed white) and on the very bottom end of lower middle class. My mother finished high school but went not further. My father dropped out of school in the 8th grade after lying to a recruiter about his age and joining the US Navy (go sailors!) Dad worked various basic laborer jobs until he finally got a break to get some on the job welding training and became a welder for the 80’s Oil Boom in Houston. Life was good for a few years and he had saved aggressively as result of growing up dirt poor (he joined the Navy so young because he heard a rumor you got fed an almost unbelievable THREE TIMES A DAY). When he got laid off in the Oil Bust, he withdrew all his retirement capital from the Brown & Root fund and paid off the house and car. We saw dark times but never had to move and I never missed a meal, even when it meant Dad worked as a janitor instead of a tradesman. I learned the value of thrift, savings, and debt avoidance early.
Channelview (Houston’s East Side) in the 70’s and 80’s was about a third each White, Brown, and Black. There was a lot of racism, including from my father (I’m still working on him) who is otherwise a kind and loving person. I had no non-white friends. The colors simply didn’t mix where I was from. And God help you if you tried to sit on the back seat of the school bus as a white boy. The black kids would beat your ass, like good! It was well known several members of the local school board where in the KKK. Black people didn’t really get any respect on the east side of Houston until the mid 80s. I’d say it coincided with the popularity of the Michael Jackson “Thriller” album. I somehow learned to have mercy for my black and brown neighbors but never really knew any of them. Perhaps, somewhat obnoxiously, I thought of non-white people as being somehow fundamentally “different” from white people. It was due to lack of exposure. I had a more enlightening college experience though.
LIFE IN AMERICA IS HARDER FOR BLACK PEOPLE
This section’s subtitle is probably going to result in some closeted white supremacists unsubscribing from my email list (good riddance!) Let’s accept as fact that discrimination still exists. Let’s accept as fact that most black people start lower socioeconomically than most white people. Let’s accept that Affirmative Action and similar programs are not enough to create a level playing field. Let’s accept that there is still de-facto racial segregation and the black communities tend to have really crappy K-12 schools.
You don’t retire early if you never make enough cash to get beyond the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. And it is damned expensive to be poor. When you have to shop at the corner store instead of a proper grocery store, when you have to take taxis and the bus instead of driving, when you have to use coin-op laundry facilities, and when your time is taken up by the things the poor have to do to survive; you cannot realistically get ahead. For many of black Americans, inter-generational poverty is the baseline of their existence. And it is a trap that few get out of. Education can make a huge difference but most black people have to go through remediation to complete college because they had a less desirable K-12 school to prepare them. That costs extra money and delays financial independence even further. If they do beat the system, they get paid less as professionals for the same work as equally qualified white people.
There is (my opinion) an information gap between the races as well. A white child is a lot more likely to have an allowance, money counseling from parents, and finance related magazines around the house. If Grandma and Grandpa worked paycheck t0 paycheck until they died, they never had an opportunity to impart the wisdom of an alternative approach to Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad likely live the same way and thus never have an opportunity to tell Junior that is no way to live. Society and the FIRE movement need to find a way to get basic financial knowledge in the hands of young minorities. We are so far, failing in that regard.
HOW CAN WHITE PEOPLE LEVERAGE THEIR PRIVILEGE TO PROMOTE FINANCIAL EDUCATION?
I get it. I’m “privileged”. Instead of that being a bad thing, I’d like to leverage my position to help those who need it most. So far, the only idea I have is blogging about issues of financial independence and race. I might as well put this platform to use. I have to admit, I’m a little stumped on where to go from there though. I’m hoping my readership can help me out with ideas. Post in the comments or email me at financial [dot] velociraptor [at] gmail [dot] com
THE FIRE MOVEMENT IS (STILL) LARGELY WHITE
I go to regular FIRE meetups here in Houston. And I’ve been to FinCon in 2017 in Dallas. It is hard not to notice the FIRE cohort is overwhelmingly white. Is this problematic? The groups I’ve been with have not revealed any open hostility to people outside their circle joining (in fact, most are evangelists for the movement.) But in all the meetups I have attended, I’ve met one black person on the path to FIRE. She was quite excited and energetic and has been increasing her 401(k) contribution by 1% of salary every year since completing university. She feels comfortable that normal retirement is already solved and revealed she is working on building a bridge from normal retirement age to covered the space between than and 40 which is her retirement goal.
I also recall several black attendees at FinCon. I witnessed one stopping in the concourse to video blog about her experience via cell phone. Nobody made a big deal about race but looking back, black finance bloggers are highly under-represented. If you are a black finance blogger, please get in touch with me about guest posting opportunities so I can help promote your site!
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS
People sometimes take stereotypes and assume that no one exists outside the caricature. I’d like to provide links to some black finance bloggers who have all achieved greater internet renown than Lizard King. Add them all to your RSS feed!
Chris Browning – https://popcornfinance.com/
Samantha Ealy – http://www.generationwealthy.org/
Marcus Garret and Rich Jones – http://paychecksandbalances.com/
Tarra Jackson – http://www.madammoney.com/blog/
Talaat and Tai McNeely – http://www.hisandhermoney.com/
Tonya Rapley – http://myfabfinance.com/
Michele Singletary – https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/michelle-singletary/
Kara Stevens – http://www.thefrugalfeminista.com/
Patrice Washington – http://www.patricewashington.com/listen/
Dasarte Yarnway – http://www.berknell.com/team/dasarte-yarnway
WHY ARE THERE SO FEW BLACK (ACCOUNTANTS, LAWYERS, DOCTORS, ETC?)
In grad school, one of the teams in my Business Research Writing class did their paper on “Why are there so few black CPAs and MBAs?” The paper nearly got published but was a little too controversial for mainstream business journals at the time. The big five (there were still five) audit firms all requested a copy of the paper though. Their findings included: there is sometimes a stigma with joining a traditionally white profession for black university students, these fields require a substantial commitment to education and usually a graduate degree that seems out of reach to black undergrads, and there may be a component of racism in university admissions that hold black aspirants back. The single black student (and this day I still LOVE Kim) in our entire MBA cohort got a little hot during the presentation. None of those things reflected her personal experience and she thought the white MBA candidates doing the research were completely out of touch.
In my opinion, the question remains unanswered. The organizations that hire licensed professionals tend to have active programs to recruit more minorities. They tend to find their efforts somehow frustrated. If any of my readers have unique insight into this problem, I’d like to talk to you about sharing what you know with the blog.
Finally, I’d like to let any black readers of my blog have an opportunity to set me straight. Surely, because my frame of reference is limited to viewing finance from the perspective of a white person, I have some misconceptions. I’d like to have those put to rest. Won’t you contact me about being the subject of a blog interview on the intersection of finance and race? I’d love to publish more material like this as I think it is not being sufficiently explored by the FIRE community.
Devour your prey raptors!