No doubt you’ve seen the memes. Almost anytime someone tweets about money — primarily about, spending it — LLC Twitter pops up with some unsolicited and allegedly woke personal finance advice.
Yes, many qualified people in the United States received a $1,200 stimulus check this year and others were able to claim unemployment with an extra $600/week. But LLC Twitter argues that anyone who didn’t flip this money to invest in a business missed out. This idea goes beyond offensive. It falls comfortably in the realm of the absurd.
We don’t all have the luxury to invest right now, but we all certainly have bills to pay. And with the second stimulus package in limbo at the time of writing this, we’re all on edge. While some may argue that the finger waggers on LLC Twitter have good intentions, I’d like to set the record straight.
As a business owner myself, I get it. We’re all realizing that no job or career is “safe” and no one is guaranteed a living wage. It makes sense to work toward sustainable self-employment and multiple streams of income. It’s a movement. It’s great that we’re seeing this mindset shift within our communities, but it certainly isn’t new. It emerged during the (previous) Great Recession, and though we just want to put our people on let’s be clear: shaming people for what they do with their money at every opportunity isn’t the answer.
Shaming isn’t effective and everyone is different
Anyone will tell you that feeling ashamed is not a positive experience. And professionals agree that it’s not effective. Psychology Today reported, “It doesn’t motivate prosocial behaviors, it fuels social withdrawal and low self-esteem.”
The article goes on to reiterate that the practice of shaming usually doesn’t accomplish the intended goal. There are a few exceptions, like when a sexual harasser is shamed into stopping. But even in these cases, the effectiveness is questionable. It’s more likely that the perpetrator continues to exhibit the behavior in a hidden, more secret way.
The same is true for shaming people for their spending choices. Adults are capable of making the right decisions for themselves and giving them that agency is essential. Urging people to reduce their compulsion to shame may seem like forceful advice in itself, but I’d like to gently urge you to explore it. A little empathy and acceptance can go a long way.
Money shaming Black people is rooted in supremacy
So shaming doesn’t work and money shaming is definitely bad manners, but there’s another layer to the problem. White supremacy exists to maintain a system of wealth and power for whites only, so chastising BIPOC, and Black people especially, is a form of survivor blaming.
The enormous racial wealth gap that still exists today is one of many hideous legacies left by slavery. In 2019, The New York Times reported, “The median family wealth for white people is $171,000, compared with just $17,600 for Black people.”
There’s no denying that Black communities and individuals continue to face systemic obstacles that prevent them from accumulating more wealth and bridging this gap. This is further supported in a report by the Center For American Progress which says “even after considering positive factors such as increased education levels, African Americans have less wealth than whites. Less wealth translates into fewer opportunities for upward mobility and is compounded by lower income levels and fewer chances to build wealth or pass accumulated wealth down to future generations.”
The same report lists the following as factors for lower wealth among African Americans.
- Less access to tax-advantaged savings
- A long history of employment discrimination
- A well-documented history of mortgage market discrimination
- Labor market discrimination and segregation
The list of discriminatory practices doesn’t end there and there are a number of other studies that show the same. There’s also an equally robust canon of research and evidence about how the wealth gap affects physical and mental health. This is all tied to a long history of American public policy systemically displacing and thereby weakening communities of color (primarily Native American and Black).
No BIPOC will be surprised by the results of these studies because we navigate these circumstances every day. But when it comes to shaming and policing, you may find it interesting that there’s no evidence that spending has a correlation with wealth access and disparities. Which makes sense considering the examples above. It’s also worth mentioning that in 2016, The Atlantic reported on “How Blacks and Whites Spend Differently” and found that “Black families at all income levels spend more on things that require a long-term contract, such as electricity and heating services, than white families at corresponding income levels.” Essentially, Black people spend more on necessities and less on things like entertainment.
So saying “If Black people did xyz with their money, such and such would happen” is psychological gaslighting in its most malevolent form. It’s akin to shaming a grossly underpaid worker for not making enough money instead of putting the responsibility on the employer. The bottom line: people need to stop dictating how Black people should spend their stimulus checks.
Entrepreneurship is hard
You’ve probably heard something like “half of all businesses fail in their first year.” While it’s more like one in five in the first two years — you get the picture. Starting and running a business isn’t easy.
One common problem is that aspiring business owners don’t take the time to find out what works best for them. They often fail to identify their unique values and skills and they don’t learn how to effectively monetize their expertise. Instead, they try to copy other business ideas.
But even if you do find an original, winning idea you’re still facing a steep learning curve. You have to deal with complicated issues like corporate structures, business taxes, and leveraging depreciation. And even if you master these, there’s still no guarantee that your business will succeed.
If you’re a Black business owner you face additional hurdles — discriminatory systemic obstacles. Black entrepreneurs don’t have the same access to networks, credit, funding, information, experience, mentorships, or risk management training, to name a few.
Reminder — we’re in the midst of a global pandemic
The present circumstances have also created a global recession, compounded by state-sanctioned violence against Black people. Most people are just trying to get by.
Since we can never truly know what’s going on in the lives of people we don’t know, we’re not allowed to judge their spending habits. Chances are they’re in mourning. Perhaps they’ve lost family, friends, a job, or all three. Is it really reasonable to expect people to have an appetite for financial risk at a time like this? Especially when unemployment is at a record high? Should we all be self-teaching ourselves an entirely new career amidst a global pandemic?
It seems unthinkable to even be asking these questions. LLC Twitter (and maybe Twitter as a whole, to be honest) needs to sit down and take a good look in the mirror. We have no right to judge someone for spending their stimulus check on small self-care luxuries, something frivolous but uplifting, home goods, comfort foods, or anything else they like. We’re in a state of global mourning.
What LLC Twitter Can Do Instead
Now, I truly don’t mean to be disheartening — everyone is probably feeling enough dystopic energy — but this is a plea for more empathy. And at a time like this, it should be a no-brainer. You don’t have to be an idealist. But kindness would be great, and a civic attitude even better.
Instead of bullying and shaming Black people about how they’re spending their income, here’s what LLC Twitter folks can do:
- Celebrate wins (especially the mundane, non-money related wins)
- Read the room and be selective with your audience
- Be generous with your expertise
- Share insight into how you solved your business problems
- Go public with any tools that have worked for you
- Show gratitude, shout out your mentors and role-models
- Hold space, let people know that you’re available to talk when they are ready
It’s also a good time to reflect on our deep-rooted capitalist complexes. A global pandemic has forced us to remember that we are human beings — we’re not defined by our careers, our jobs, or our income.
Janene Smith is a former consultant turned blogger with a Masters in I/O Psychology from NYU. You can check out her musings at CareerCaviar.com where she shares tips for cultivating wellness at work and in your wallet.