I've said before that nobody knows how to work their fingers to the bone like black folks.
Too bad we have nothing to show for it.
The Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington D.C., reported that median net worth for a white family was $140,700 in 2004. Median net worth for all other people was $24,800.
For those of us new to finance, your net worth is the difference between assets - such as the value of your home, savings and investments - and liabilities like outstanding credit card debt, loans and mortgages.
You don't have to be a financial genius to see that's a massive gap.
We all know why this is. Black people have inherited a lopsided economic burden from our enslaved ancestors and those that survived Jim Crow, lynchings and legal segregation, which, incidentally, didn't end that long ago. Many black families have worked hard all their lives, but have no wealth - including houses, land or investments - to bequeath their descendants.
I started this blog because I knew my financial ignorance would be my undoing. I also finally saw that if I scraped by my whole life, my future children were going to do exactly the same thing.
My grandmother is a sharecropper's daughter. She didn't finish high school and she earned a living as a live-in domestic for years. My mom finished high school and has been blessed to work at the same job since she graduated. They raised me in a Brooklyn housing project.
But I went to college and graduate school. In my lifetime, I'll earn more money than either of them will have ever put their own hands on. That was their goal. That's what they worked for. Yet, in my current financial path, I would have finished my life with nothing to show for it.
I couldn't do that. That would have been the utmost in selfishness and laziness.
Unfortunatley, not everyone wakes up to see that fact.
When you have to figure out where your next meal is coming from or how you're going to buy new shoes for your child and pay the utility bill, your mind is far from thinking about s retirement, health savings accounts, mutual funds and the like.
But eventually you're going to have to get off the hamster wheel and focus your energy in a different direction.
Americans love the idea of the big idea or the big score that sets you up forever without any hard work. But in real life that almost never happens.
Black folks in particular believe that they need some kind of windfall, the big payback, getting over, the major hustle that will set everything up. They'll be discovered as a singer, rapper, actor, model, athlete. Somehow, someway a lot of money will suddenly come their way.
The truth is harder to swallow. It takes generations to build wealth, real wealth. That means a totally different mindset about money. That means financial understanding that is passed on around the dinner table. That means raising children who know how to save and why they should. That means squelching the desire for instant gratification. It means setting things up so each generation starts on a higher rung than their predecessors, not always starting from scratch.
It is possible for poor people to build wealth, but that hard work might not pay off for a generation. Essentially, we'll have to work for our children.
True, most Americans are failing miserably to prepare their children financially, regardless of their race, culture, color or class. But generational poverty destroys families' ability to develop the skills necessary to get out of debt and stay out, hold down jobs, pay bills on time and accumulate wealth.
Look at the Katrina victims.
Defeating poverty takes a conscious effort by an individual. That person, that couple, that family has to decide that they don't want to live that way anymore.
They have to further their education. I'm not talking about fancy, overpriced colleges. I'm talking about night school, trade school, nursing school -- anything that will help them get a job with a better salary.
They've got to get over their fears and read a book about finances. I took a big gulp and started with one book. Now I have a list I want to read. Reading other blogs has taught me simple things I never thought I'd know like how to really bargain for the right price for a car and how to pay off debt. My entire thinking about money has changed.
And they've got to cut loose anyone who stands in their way -- be they your roll dog, your boy from way back in the day, your best girl or your blood relatives.
I spoke to a young woman who said when she started going to finance classes and started working longer hours to earn more money, she caught flak from her friends. A finance professional told me that she's had to counsel people whose families were trying to convince them that they'd never be rich, never have what they were saving for and were wasting their time.
There are jealous people. There are lazy people who want you to stay lazy. There are also people who simply don't understand that they can change their lives. There are people who are simply afraid of change.
But we can't be afraid to stop the nonsense. It has to stop somewhere or it will last forever. Look at the median net worth statistic. It doesn't have to be like that.
I hope to be very comfortable. I don't know if I'll be rich. I don't care. Because knowing what I know now, I know what I will teach my kids. I know that they'll have mutual fund accounts before they emerge from the womb. I know I'll teach them about saving while I teach them to read.
I'm looking for tools that will help me everyday. Start with your local Housing & Redevelopment Authority. Also check with the local Social Services department. Try local credit unions, which sometimes offer free financial classes. Check out Fannie Mae's Web site -- there's good, free tools on repairing credit, learning to budget and figuring out how to buy a home you can afford.
Start there. Just start at all. I've met some black folks who had dreams and decided to do something about them. They might not get rich, but their children will never be poor.