A Word on Intersectionality, Rigged Systems, and Financial Advice
Do you ever feel like “the system” is rigged against you? The system can be many things. For me it was the student loan industry. I felt they preyed upon my family and took advantage of us for wanting to live our American dream of going to college. Our status as blue-collar people in a low-income town made us vulnerable to exploitative lenders looking to increase profits on the backs of unassuming people simply trying to make a better life for themselves. The injustice I felt during that time is relatively mild compared to the way financial institutions, businesses, and even government agencies often target and/or discriminate against marginalized communities; particularly people of color, low-income families, the LGBTQ+ community, and women.
I’ve spent the past several months discussing how you can improve your own financial life and I hope you’ve learned a few lessons. At a minimum, I hope I’ve made you smile and given you a little bit of hope. What we haven’t really addressed are the institutional issues which continually hurt marginalized groups. What I’m talking about today is how much more difficult it is to become financially independent if you are not white, not male, and not heterosexual. Let’s not pretend that discrimination doesn’t exist.
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people saying something to the effect of “your advice is good, but it’s not always applicable to everyone.” This is true. I mainly talk about money from the perspective of a middle-class white woman in the suburbs. Unfortunately, some of the advice I give isn’t always intersectional.
So I wanted to take a second to address that.
I need to do a better job. My industry needs to a better job. Our society needs to understand we’re not all on equal footing when we set out on the path to financial freedom.
Financial freedom is not as easily achieved if you are discriminated against, or raised in a low-income community where education is underfunded, or turned away from jobs because of the way you look or who you love. These are very real issues which impede the path to financial success for millions of people.
Oh, I cannot wait for the “Well, actually…” crowd to come at me for this one. Here’s the thing: we all need to be personally accountable for our financial lives, but we can’t ignore the greater institutionalized issues within our society like predatory student loan and housing lenders, shifty credit card issuers, the small group of billionaires and millionaires essentially running our political system, the lack of funding for education in low-income communities, and the utter disdain for women within the highest ranks of business and government. This all goes hand-in-hand with the classism, racism, sexism, and every -ism and phobia plaguing our institutions and culture. While we all must do what we can to help ourselves, we can’t ignore the fact marginalized communities are operating within a system that often treats them unfairly.
I will never believe hope is lost. I believe we can collectively push the needle forward on social issues, despite the difficult odds. I would love to see a world where every person has the same opportunity to reach financial independence. Until that time, we must advocate for the less fortunate.
So how do we do that?
For my fellow financial planners and teachers, we need to go teach financial literacy in underserved places. Schools, community centers, shelters, libraries, wherever you go there are people who need these skills. Let’s do our part.
Continue to educate yourself
We are nothing without knowledge. I don’t care how “woke” you think you are, don’t stop reading and learning from the perspectives of those who don’t look or live like you. My grandmother once told me, “be smart enough to know you don’t know anything at all.” This piece of advice has stuck with me. I can’t begin to know the struggles of many marginalized communities, but it is my responsibility as a human functioning within this society to learn. Then I must take that knowledge and use it to help improve those problems. This is our duty as compassionate human beings. You don’t have to solve world hunger, but at least have enough heart to acknowledge the problem, and go feed a kid or two.
Fucking vote for candidates who actually have your best interest at heart. Gone are the days of complacency and not informing yourself about candidates for federal, state, and local elections. We all have a civic responsibility, and if you like living in a democratic republic in which you are free to write shit on the internet and go to brunch on Sundays, I suggest you start engaging in the political process.
Run for office
Let’s be real. We need better people in government. These shitbag politicians often rise through the ranks completely unopposed. You want to see your values reflected throughout society? Then run for office, vote for people who share your views, and continue to raise awareness.
Don’t shut up
When we see inequality and injustice, we are complicit if we say nothing. Be brave and stand up for those who are treated unfairly. Keep raising the issue until it is solved. Don’t call yourself an ally, a feminist, or an advocate if real and consistent action doesn’t follow your words. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We all need to be better listeners. Americans love to impose their views on others while simultaneously existing in their sanctimonious echo chambers. We don’t listen to opposing views, we don’t try to understand the struggles of our peers. We listen only to formulate a response. We need to start listening to understand. This isn’t easy, I’m the first to admit I suck at listening, but I’m willing to try harder and keep my opinionated mouth shut while someone else is talking.
If you don’t understand certain communities, opposing views, or why someone would choose to put pineapple on a pizza, ask questions! Don’t ask in condescending or rhetorical ways either, ask honestly and earnestly. Ask open ended questions that’ll encourage civil discourse. Ask with a heart and head that’s ready to hear answers that might not be pleasant to one’s ears. Also remember, there’s a time and a place to play devil’s advocate, but know that in doing so people will want to throw you off a bridge.
Support institutions that support you
In the financial world, I’m talking about the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. This bureau is not perfect, but it was put into place to protect average everyday people from companies trying to take advantage of you. Support the fiduciary rule. The fiduciary rule is when a financial advisor or planner is legally obligated to act in your best interest. This is a good rule which aims to keep financial professionals honest and putting your hard earned money to the best use possible. Don’t let political nonsense distract you from protections that are actually in your best interest.
Our society will continue to evolve, but don’t for one second think you are insignificant and can’t help enact change. Don’t take the easy way out. Be a productive and compassionate citizen. I know it’s overwhelming and big issues seem out of our hands, but that’s the attitude that got a reality tv star elected and it’s no longer acceptable. We have to do better for ourselves, and for the most vulnerable among us. Right now, for many people, the system seems rigged against them. These are fixable problems if we take the necessary actions.
Clearly, I’m not just talking about inequalities in the financial systems now. Sorry about that, but I’m feeling feisty today. I know it sounds like I’m on a high horse or preaching from a soapbox, but you should know these are all things I’ve had to say to myself in the past year. I’m not any better than anyone else. I don’t have all the answers, but I don’t think we should ever stop searching for the solutions to these big problems.