It is incredible how one picture can stir up so many angles, discussions and viewpoints.
I am conflicted
I truly am proud of how far I have come, how I made it to where I am, and yet I am conflicted because I have had a lot of privileges as well.
So, in light of just trying to touch on all the points I read and thought about, here is a mishmash of thoughts.
Settle in, because this is a long post even by my standards.
(Take frequent breaks.)
The disparity of rich and poor isn’t just white and male
Plenty of people at the top as 1%, aren’t white and male. Just look at me. I am considered to be in the 1% in Canada, and I am not white and male.
To just look at this ONE illustration and discern that being white and male = 1% and rich, is a very simplistic view of things.
In fact, many immigrants are the ones who make up the 1% (my entire family!!), and we aren’t all white or male.
The illustration is jarring because it is taking what we put on the spotlight as a “Privileged Person” represented by a white male, versus the “Most Disrespected Person” represented by a black woman, which isn’t too far off from the general truth, but certainly not indicative of the diverse facets in this discussion of race and gender.
We all have different starting points
Being born with money is a totally different ballgame from being born without any.
I take my mother as an example (always) because she was born into the poorest of the poor, rats at her feet, sleeping on wine crates, only 2 pairs of socks a year that she had to carefully wash and wear or else she’d have nothing else.
She started very, VERY low in life.
Her start, to journey from where she came from to becoming a 1%-earner in Canada, is a triple league of leaps that I couldn’t possibly replicate in my lifetime unless I became a billionaire.
She went from having to go to the church for handouts for food, stealing fruit from trees and taking food from domestic animals to survive, to making over 6-figures, owning her own home outright and living a very comfortable life.
My journey is a small drop in the ocean compared to what she went through.
When she had me, I started in a middle-class upbringing. I had family around me at the time in our home country, we had enough to pay for food, shelter (and comfortable enough shelter at that but not luxurious by any means in a small apartment), and a car.
We both had different starting points, and I daresay I went one level (?) above her by achieving work optional status in my early 30s (as in, I don’t rely on my day job but work it anyway because I love it), and having built up 11 side incomes to pull in almost $35K in 2019, and now aiming for $50K in 2020, paid my more-than-comfortable apartment and my luxury car in cash — it is something she couldn’t have dreamed of.
..but your starting point only covers certain things
Being born into a rich family is not necessarily better than being born into a poor one, but chances are, you are going to not have to deal with:
- Having no food
- Electricity/Bills/Utilities go unpaid and cut off
- Worrying about paying for gifts, etc
- Having to walk everywhere with a bus pass with no hope of a car to help shorten the commute if possible
- No luxuries if any beyond what I call ‘affordable luxuries for the poor’ like smoking, daily coffee or lunches, drinking, lottery tickets, small electronics or designer goods like a belt*
You simply don’t worry about these things above a certain income level.
Once you’re above the working poor, $50 to save is “nothing”. Same with $100, but if you’re the working poor, and maybe worse, a single mother who is working 2 minimum wage jobs, one to fully pay for daycare if she has no help, this can feel like a never-ending cycle of poverty.
Being ‘rich’ (above working poor, in this case), means you can go out and buy a box of blueberries as a treat and it won’t break the bank. You can afford to be wasteful with your money if you choose to (heck, I definitely was.)
*If you’re poor, you find great pleasure in buying small designer goods like a belt or a keychain from a brand name, because it feels like you’re rich / one of the rich. They find pleasure in these small luxuries (even in a daily coffee from a chain), and tend to spend their money before they have it; whereas the rich spend their money after they’ve gotten it.
So even though we all intellectually know this is irrational because you’re only rich if you have money in the bank, they are living to the best they can make out of their lives in their minds. But that’s another discussion.
Your appearance also plays a role
You can grow up with the best of the best, but even all of that doesn’t insulate you from any racism or sexism that may occur.
“So I grew up upper middle class and had every Priviledge [sic] provided to me that you could imagine (every teacher was handpicked). Money was never a concern, but that didn’t matter sometimes since people couldn’t see past my skin/gender. I did become successful, but I still have to deal with condescending tones (for being a woman and I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about) and people following me around while I look at an expensive home (they didn’t follow other people).”
I live this.
Perhaps not quite as strongly as a black woman, but as a woman of colour, I completely get what she is saying; you’re passed over for things because you’re a woman and/or you have to work harder to prove yourself BECAUSE you’re a woman. At work, in a male dominated industry of STEM, I can tell you that I am looked at like I can’t possibly have anything to bring to the table when I start, because I am a young, attractive woman.
It’s a bias I start with.
I start behind the line and then have to fight to be at the same level as someone else, and any little misstep immediately goes to: Oh but she’s young/a woman/uses her looks …..
Then if you’re a person of colour like I am, you get seemingly innocuous comments that are actually quite racist like:
“Wow I can’t believe you can speak French/English like us” – as if I am “Other” because I am not white
Or this one:
“You must be a self-hating ______ who defies and rejects her own culture because you don’t like to eat ______” – a “joke” but not really, because it was just flat out disrespectful and racist. I can be a certain ethnicity and not like traditional foods, and yet this is something that is cultural and a failing of mine, rather than a simple, personal, individual preference to not want to eat it.
In contrast, if you’re a white person who doesn’t like something very traditional let’s say like poutine in Québec, or to refuse to eat red meat, you aren’t looked at for being culturally deficient and a ‘self-hating’ person.
ALL of these are subtle but racist comments because it assumes something about me just by my appearance alone.
Why we “pick” white males as the faces of privilege
It’s because white males have privileges they didn’t even know were privileges.
My partner is a tall, white male. My son, is likely also going to be tall, and definitely identify more as a white male even though he is half, he doesn’t look like it.
I am not going to assume that just because you’re a white male (again, appearance!) you have it easier in life than anyone else, BUT… I will assume that being white and a male, you have a carte blanche (see what I did there?), with MANY things.
You can, for instance:
- Travel alone to foreign countries and likely not get harassed (try doing that as a young, single female)
- Walk alone in a dark park at night without a buddy (something drilled into me to never do)
- Not have to hold car keys in your hand with the points as spikes when you go to your car alone, ANYWHERE
- Not be on guard when you go to an unfamiliar place and only see guys there, and have to hesitate and assess the situation with your instincts
- Drive in a car and not be scared when a cop stops you – SO. MANY. STORIES. about black people being stopped for … being black. This isn’t even a joke, this is their reality and they live with on the daily
- Not have any racist comments thrown at you because you’re white and therefore not “Other”
- Accept invitations from anyone you care to, without thinking of how it would look to other people – Will it look like I am leading him on? Will it look like I accepted the proposition and now he has a “right” to have misread signals and violate me?
- Drink and eat things without thinking if it is drugged or spiked, depending on where you are (a bar, restaurant, etc)
- Go out on dates and not worry if this guy will expect something, and/or start stalking you if things don’t end well
- Generally not worry about about being raped. Anywhere, anytime. And then having it blamed on you, and possibly having to abort a child in secret or out of state if it is illegal
- Sleep with anyone you want if you care to, and not be labelled a ‘slut’, ‘whore’, ‘dirty immoral freak’, and to not have to preserve any possible fragment of purity in the form of virginity
- Agonize over what to wear anywhere because you don’t want to be seen as any of these: ‘loose’, ‘matronly’, ‘easy’, or whatever derogatory terms are used to assess women on their appearance and clothing
… these are all privileges as a white and/or male, because you don’t even think about it as an issue, as it was never an issue. My partner and my son will and never have experienced any of the above. They grow up with a built-in shield, a confidence that things are fine and the world is good because they aren’t seeing the world as dangerous.
As a young woman, I grew up with all of this. Advice about how to avoid spiked drinks, be aware of your surroundings in case someone attacks me in a parking lot… and it is mentally EXHAUSTING to carry and lift this burden in life, just because I am a young woman of colour.
100% just because you’re a white male, doesn’t mean you have it easier. Now you have reverse discrimination or filtering, where they have to hire someone who checks off diversity boxes because things are trying to become equalized in the workplace.
In business school back in my day, and even now, women ALWAYS GET INTERVIEW SPOTS at all the investment banking firms.
Because they’re women.
Women of colour? DING DING DING JACKPOT!….
In contrast, a lot of white guys in my year, had to fight for the few spots left allocated for ‘white men’, and the other spots had to go to ‘diverse hires’, to even out the playing field.
Do I think this is fair? I am conflicted.
On the one hand, I like the forced acknowledgement and diversity to hire someone who doesn’t look like you, the recruiter who is likely a white male, but on the other hand, I want people to be hired by their individual merits.
I don’t care if you’re purple, green, blue, and a Martian or a white male. If you can do the job better than another person, I want YOU to be hired. But the real question comes into play of — how do you tell if someone is more qualified without appearances alone?
I have no answer, but I can tell you that a picture/in-person meeting, even your NAME is cause for discrimination when recruiters sift through resumes of potential hires.
Just seeing an ethnic name, can make someone put you in the Pass pile. Never mind if your resume is exactly the same, your name says something about you.
A lot of my friends have considered changing their last name to their married last names because just seeing their name alone (keep in mind, they grew up Canadian and don’t have an accent at all), they can hear over the phone a shift in the way people treat them once they hear their name.
Or even in orchestras – seeing a man play a ‘manly instrument’ like a bass or the saxophone, can skew the bias towards hiring him to play, over a woman who plays equally as well, or better. When researchers put these musicians behind a screen and the interviewers evaluated them on just their performance, they were choosing women more often than before.
So what choice do companies have in a general method, to avoid their bias and to tamp it down, BUT to force a diversity hiring?
Again, no answers, but something to think about.
Your environment matters
The rich pass on rich habits. The poor pass on poor habits.
If you grow up in an environment where everyone goes to payday loans stores, spends all of their money, doesn’t care about learning about how to save or budget — THAT IS WHAT YOU WILL LEARN.
That is your starting, Money Story.
Now, it doesn’t mean you have to live it – you can certainly change it and be the ‘weird oddball’ in your area, but it takes effort and individual will to change your starting Money Story to something different.
And if you do it, you may even get flack for it. I know people who told me as they were growing up, they started to try and study, get good grades, work hard, and advance themselves, only to be derided by (jealous) members in their circle saying: Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re better than us because you’re trying to get out of this area and leave us?
Herd / community mentality is STRONG. It can be difficult to go against the tide when so many people seem to be against you. You need a strong support network to lift you out, or at least a very strong mental attitude to think: F all of them. I am not going to grow up to be this statistic.
I didn’t grow up in a nice neighbourhood, and there was a lot of this trash talking. My mother eventually decided to take me out of the elementary school I was in and shift me to a ‘nicer’ school in another area where I auditioned to get in, and from there, it started me on a different track/path to better things.
Had she not moved me early on, I am not sure where I would be today.
And she didn’t even know about this school, it was my brother who told her to ‘get me out’ to increase my chances of NOT being a single, teenage mother who dropped out (not that I think I would have gone down that route but you never know.)
Had she not had that help from my brother, who knows? It’s almost like a matter of circumstance, luck and chance, sometimes, of how you get out of a situation that isn’t the best.
Your individual attitude also counts a lot
You can be rich and grow up with everything, and waste it all.
You can also be rich, grow up with everything and have even more than before.
You can be poor, grow up with nothing, and have nothing at the end to show for it.
You can also be poor, grow up with nothing, and be farther ahead than anything money could buy to give you a head start.
Your individual attitude and effort matters greatly, in fact, that is one of the key success factors to children doing well, from what I have gleaned.
If you don’t have a strong work ethic, if you don’t CHOOSE to have a life different from what you are experiencing, you are only hurting yourself. You start in life with what you have got – all, some, little or no privileges to speak of (although if you grow up in a First World country, you are already privileged in my opinion), and if you waste the little precious treasure that you have, there seems to be no mercy for you.
My partner grew up almost as poor as my mother.
He at least, had food, proper clothing (secondhand, which is why he abhors secondhand clothing to this day), and shelter, but they weren’t rich by any means. He grew up in neighbourhoods where most of his former friends became drug dealers or addicts.
His parents were also unable to help him much, not having gone to even high school, they had no education to sit down with him and go through homework or to understand or teach anything. He and his siblings helped each other through school.
Despite all of that, he made it to one of the top business schools in France (this is a huge deal – read: Imagine your degree determining your life), and is now retired early in Canada, pursuing his dream of being a professor.
He definitely worked for what he got. Hearing what he went through, this wasn’t an easy leap.
His parents had no money to buy anything, and since he wanted toys and things, he figured out on his own he would have to get a good job, and to get a good job you needed a good school. Ergo, he had to study like a mofo to get into said ‘good school’, preferably on scholarship as his parents had no money to pay for him.
He achieved all of that. Just from a child, sitting at home, thinking that he had nothing to lose, he worked his way out.
In a similar vein, though maybe one step higher (?) on the social class ladder, even though I have had a strange middle class upbringing, I wasn’t born rich either.
We were lower middle class if that, but only buoyed by the fact that my parents won the lottery but then wasted it because they had a poor mindset (buying things not assets), and not a rich one looking into the future of how to make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity grow.
I worked since I was 7, basically. I have always had a job, even a side one, and in school, had two jobs to make it through (admittedly I was dumb and not very frugal with my money, so that didn’t help).
I definitely worked for what I have today and I am damn proud of it. I could have just stayed where I was and stayed ‘safe’ with my $65K job, but I was hungry for more, and I quit to freelance and quadruple my income to $260K after 2 years out of school.
We can each list out all of our individual privileges
These are all things I am proud of, but I am fully acknowledging that even as a woman of colour, I have had many privileges:
- Live in a First World country not torn apart by wars, or run by (too) corrupt governments with zero care for citizens
- Live in a First World country with universal healthcare (though no dental and eye care)
- Grew up in a safe family with a nice home where parents love me, gave me food and shelter – having childhood trauma from not having enough to eat, parents who verbally or physically abuse you… this is all stuff other children are affected by and haunted by until their death
- Had enough to eat so I wasn’t starving & unable to concentrate in class – this is from my mother who told me she couldn’t even stay awake to study, she was so hungry all the time
- Had extra money to buy me things like language tutoring lessons when I was a child, to books and educational materials
- Able to go on vacations – any vacation, really…!
- Had siblings to help me through school somewhat, at least by goading me on to be competitively smarter than them
- Had a role model of a mother who is fiercely independent and hardworking
- Just Lucky – I graduated before the recession hit and managed to find a job during the peak of the market
- Had the environment of relative freedom as a child to pursue my own imagination which is what led me to decide on my degree and then the job I eventually obtained which I make good money at
…all of these things and more, are things I don’t take for granted because it put me where I am today.
Disadvantages can also have been our saviours
We have lots of individual disadvantages, but you know what, some of it I see as having been an opportunity to prove them wrong.
Each time someone said: But you’re just a young girl, you can’t possibly ask for that much money, you should be GRATEFUL for what you are earning …. it just made me angrier and spurred me on to work harder/faster and then to basically have “F U” money to tell brokers to shove it.
When anyone tells me I can’t do something, I have an itch to prove them wrong and to show them that success is the best revenge.