While searching for information and new ideas about how to introduce new solutions in the classroom for our financial and social inequities that exist within our communities, our society, I stumbled across an old email given to me while I was working in retail back in August of 2004. One of my (former) assistant managers printed out an email that was traveling throughout city government about a (then) recent article in USA Today. The article, written by Yolonda Young, gave the horrific reality check for any/many African-American(s) whose lifestyle was identical to the information and research that she presented. The sad reality about what Mrs. Young has informed us of is more than likely still true to this day, and was also probably true long before she wrote the following article nearly ten years ago. Take a look at the following for yourself, and then think about what has changed, if anything at all.
Tough Choices for Tough Times (USA Today)
By Yolonda Young
These are tough economic times, especially for African-Americans, for whom the unemployment rate is more than 10%. Alarmingly, rather than belt-tightening, the response has been to spend more. In many poor neighborhoods, one is likely to notice satellite dishes and new cars. According to Target Market, a company that tracks black consumer spending, blacks spend a significant amount of their income on depreciable products. In 2002, the year the economy nose-dived, we spent $22.9 billion on clothes, $3.2 billion on electronics, and $11.6 billion on furniture to put into homes, that in many cases, were rented.
Among our favorite purchases are cars and liquor. Blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population, yet account for more than 30% of the country’s Scotch consumption. Detroit, which is 80% black, is the world’s No.1 market for Cognac. So impressed was Lincoln with the $46.7 billion that blacks spent on cars that the automaker commissioned Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, the entertainment and fashion mogul, to design a limited edition Navigator replete with six plasma screens, three DVD players, and a Sony Play Station 2. The only area where blacks seem to be cutting back on spending is books; total purchases have gone from a high of $356 million in 2000, to $303 million in 2002.
The shortsighted behavior, motivated by a desire for instant gratification and social acceptance, comes at the expense of our future. The National Urban League’s “State of Black America 2004″ report found that fewer than 50% of black families owned homes compared with more than 70% of whites. According to published reports, the Ariel Mutual Funds/Charles Schwab 2003 Black Investor Survey found that when comparing households where blacks and whites had roughly the same household incomes, whites saved nearly 20% more each month for retirement, and 30% of African-Americans earning $100,000 a year had less than $5,000 in retirement savings. While 79% of whites invest in the stock market, only 61% of African-Americans do. Certainly, higher rates of unemployment, income disparity and credit discrimination are financial impediments to the economic vitality of blacks, but so are our consumer tastes.
By finding the courage to change our spending habits, we might be surprised at how far the $631 billion we now earn might take us.
After reading this, with so much time (now) passed by between the time this was released and the recession that crippled our nation, it is quite difficult to imagine that things have gotten worse. In some cases it seems as though it has, while looking at others it has not. Much of what Mrs. Young has stated is very much true, but while some look for evidence to disprove what the studies have found, a few of our most recognizable athletes in America have given Mrs. Young (yet) another topic for a new book. Late last year, and earlier this year, reports about the dismal financial status of Antione Walker, Allen Iverson, and Warren Sapp made headlines across America. The most alarming and (unfortunately) most intriguing of course being that of Allen Iverson. While he is still very much-loved by Philadelphia, one cannot help but to wonder what happened to a(n) inspiration to the city’s (hip-hop) culture, the rebel that could not be stopped, the league’s dominant three time scoring champion, “The Answer”, the game changer. Looking back at his career, one cannot help but to feel sorry for the colossal collapse of ”The Answer” as speculation became rumors, which then became true stories about his divorce, a freeze on his available assets (until he paid more than $800,000 back to a jeweler that probably designed custom jewelry for him), and a Forbes Magazine story by an anonymous (former) teammate of Iverson’s that spoke about his traveling arrangements and spending habits (where he would go on trips without luggage, purchase high-end/designer-brand clothes that he needed where ever he visited, then left everything in the hotel room and went either back home or on another trip). The many stories/rumors around Philadelphia about Iverson’s spending habits and lifestyle (on City Ave.) are indeed disturbing. However, Warren Sapp’s troubles are just as bad, if not worse than Iverson’s. Sapp has seen portions of his NFL earnings quickly evaporate due to child support payments, alimony payments, and multiple paternity suits. He also filled for bankruptcy earlier this year. The disappointing and humiliating court documents revealing that the only real possessions of value that he claimed were his private collection of more than 200 pairs of Michael Jordan basketball shoes, a watch worth almost $2,500, and his lion skin rug. The items that were not on the report that everyone thought would/should be were his championship rings from his playing days at the University of Miami, and as a member of the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucaneers from 2002, to which he claims he lost both rings. Perhaps he lied to save what assets he had, but what if he isn’t lying? What if what the report stated was true by his own admission? What if the story in Forbes Magazine about Iverson is true? The real question is not whether or not these stories are believable, but rather why are they (now) a more common reality of the squandering away of one’s enormous amounts of wealth in the name of love for/of greed, pride, vanity and arrogance? Are these the things that drive us, guide us, disguise us, divide us, and ultimately define us?
It is very much true that we want nothing more than to be socially accepted, and by distancing ourselves from poverty (and weak/poor social status) by the easiest means possible built upon the illusion of appearing as amongst the privileged, the fortunate, the well off, we only disguise our own insecurities and ignorance amongst one another, not the true affluent and wealthy. They see right through the sheer veil while/when we use ten, twenty, fifty, hundred-dollar bills to purchase a Gucci hand bag, while/when they use black or titanium credit cards to purchase that same handbag along with the wallet, the shoes, and other complimentary Gucci accessories (for an evening out). While we try desperately to impress our peers and co-workers with our appearance and home furnishings, they try desperately not to appear as though they are working like the everyday common folks that are working for them. The only thing that we are similar in is our competitive rivalry in pilling up massive, enormous amounts of debt from gathering up as many (luxurious) possessions as possible in order to appear as though we are truly kings and/or queens; free from rulership or being enslaved by mediocrity, boredom, poverty, complacency, social disorganization, and/or social isolation . This is how we create and identify the true meaning/standard of living. It is this misguidance that distorts our vision, our reality, which then leads to blind following. Or, perhaps worse than that is when we turn to our possessions, our “trophies of honor and class” after we have competed heavily (and often) for our possessions so much so that we neglect, then reject our friends and family for the sake of competing amongst others to receive (even) more praise, more adoration, more admiration, more “trophies”. While neglecting and (then) rejecting those not on our level, we turn to our possessions as if they are now our new companions, peers, confidants, allies, comforters, “lovers”, spouses, family. The excessive blind adoration, reverence, and devotion to a lifestyle of a unfillfilling, untamable appetite for extravagance causes the (slow and silent) deterioration of one’s self, one’s home, one’s community, one’s life, one’s soul.
Both Iverson and Sapp’s uncontrollable love for the finer things in life are (unfortunately) identical to ours, which ultimately gives those outside of the African-American race, those outside of living in the ghetto/”Hood”, the impression that we are only good at devouring and/or squandering away our wealth in the name of adoration and admiration of the affluent and wealthy. The intense feeling, and often fierce competition, to proudly display one’s wealth by beautification of/with such delightful, desirable things we enjoy having is to proudly parade with a boastful, colorful, pretentious display of falsehood; a shallow and weak imitation of a peacock. All the while many of us never recognizing that we are simply being exposed and exploited by the likes of Target, Walmart (check out their tv commercials from Easter 2006-2008), Coors Light, Bud Light, Ciroc, Nike/Jordan, Reebok, Adidas, Cadillac, Lincoln and countless others. We are simply “running in place (while) chasing the style” making ourselves look cute, but (also) foolish as we devoutly love to practice idol worshiping with much love. This was (even) more clear, more evident as we waited outside of malls across America for the release of the Jordan XI basketball shoe two days before Christmas. While we complained and expressed our frustration(s) about a decrepit job market, exhausting our unemployment compensation(s), Nike/Jordan were set out to prove that these claims were notl exactly as we made them appear to be. Many of us stood out in the freezing cold (with our infants and toddlers the night before the release date) waiting to trade our soul to be the first one on ”The Block”, “Around the Way” with the Grambling State, “Stomp the Yard”, “Drum Line” patent leather-marching band looking shoes. And, while many of us put utilities, rent, and other responsibilities/financial obligations on the back burner, Nike/Jordan increased their profits, demand, and status as the shoes sold for $200. Adding insult to financial injury, most stores that carried the shoes had limited amounts (none having above 84 pairs to supply to more than 400 people at each mall).This caused an uproar across the nation to which many of us stole pairs of the shoes by breaking into stores, or stealing them from customers that were able to purchase a pair despite the low quantities. Then Nike further exposed and exploited the truths of our “available funds” three weeks later as they released the Nike Foamposites worn by former Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee ”Penny” Hardaway. However, Nike must have understood that the job market was still crippling a nation as they were generous enough to sell the sneakers at the discounted price of $220. And, Nike/Jordan did help put even more money into the economy as some people realized that they could profit even more from the wonderful contributions of exposing and exploiting “The Hood Rich and Ghetto Fabulous” by selling the Jordan XI on ebay for as much as $700. Capitalism works best when it gives way, gives life to entrepreneurs.
These type of actions (unfortunately) set off a chain reaction. This clear message of “We know that you have money, you just haven’t decided what you’d like to spend it on (yet)” resonated throughout corporate America which created new projections for quarterly gains. Other companies followed the examples of Nike/Jordan to promote and market to a group whose only real chance to be apart of the affluent and wealthy is to be able to (somewhat) pass for one of them by pretending and having the appearance of one of them. Their cultures, traditions, customs, and lifestyles are often unobtainable, and may even operate as a completely separate society although we all live on the same continent, following the same laws. We never quite comprehend the unique emphasis and methodology of their values, education, enrichment, initiatives endeavors, goals, investing, family traditions charity, life expectations, and life experiences. Therefore, we are left to imagine then pretend that we too have the same value system, which we then use to identify and measure success with. Learning how to become successful stretches far beyond seeking an immediate return on our investment(s), immediate gratification from the delights and desires of life, and possessing everything that excites our senses. True success begins with obtaining knowledge, while practicing and using it (correctly) to mold and shape our attitudes, behaviors, intentions, actions, and faith. These are the things that are really used to determine and measure a person’s status, character, and success. The finest luxuries are only a compliment to those fine qualities, not the other way around that we like to use them as.
The recklessness, ignorance, arrogance, greed, pride, and falsehood that has fueled our desires is now recognizable as we notice that all we have are old trinkets and clothes reminding us of how we used to splurge without a second thought. As more and more of us begin families and approach middle age, we find ourselves scrambling for basic necessities that we once took for granted when we had large amounts of disposable income at our finger tips. Fortunately, we (now) realize what is/was wrong with our mentality, intentions, and lifestyles. Hopefully, we will (now) have the much-needed time and success in correcting our mistakes much like we did in making them.