Category Archives: Women of Color and Wealth

Quoted: All Hail the Queen?

Queen Bey--Too hot for feminism?

Queen Bey–Too hot for feminism?

In Bitch magazine, Racialicious senior editor Tamara Winfrey Harris weighs in on feminist criticism of singer Beyonce:

Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”

Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”

Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.

Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.

Read more…

Women of Color and Wealth – An Aside on Consumption and Pressure to Shop [Part 5.5]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is an aside (part five and a half) of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the hip-hop space as I’ve been working on some new articles and projects, and happened across Necole Bitchie (via The Fashion Bomb) discussing a fairly ignorant interaction that brought to mind some of the issues we were discussing with barriers to wealth building for women of color.  I have no idea who this Maino person is, but apparently he is a rapper with very particular ideas about the purpose and proper presentation of women – and took offense to video model Rosa Acosta wearing “cheap shoes.”

In the Maino interview he says:

    “I looked at her “boom” she’s cute but she had cheap shoes. Someone asked me would I ever try to talk to her and I said, “No disrespect but [that ain't] my type. Look at your shoes. Look at your bag. I don’t even f*ck women like you.” Imagine I pull up somewhere and you got Jay-z, you got Diddy and n*ggas about their business. I pull up in my bentley and jump out, and this b*tch got on her cheap azz shoes. I don’t want you, if I can’t sport you.”
Acosta returned fire in a different interview, making a major point about prioritizing how one spends money:
“First of all he said I’m cheap. That I wear cheap shoes. There is a difference between simple and cheap. I will not wear something that is fake so I will wear whatever I can afford. If I can just afford Forever 21 shoes, then that’s what I am going to buy [...] I am still the same girl that came from the Dominican Republic. My family has never been rich. I’m still not rich. Why would I go and buy a $2000 pair of shoes that I can’t afford when I can actually help my family that’s still living in DR, or I can save my money or I could spend money on my education. What is wrong with buying something that’s inexpensive.”
And Ms. Bitchie herself opines:

Maino’s comment and mentality is the reason why chicks are skipping out on rent and damn near having to move back home or shacking up with 4-5 roommates, just to floss. If you have a closet full of expensive shoes and handbags but still have trouble keeping your lights on or you are hiding your car from the repo man every other month. That’s a problem. If you are a guy and you are riding around in a Bentley and still living in your mama’s basement, That’s a problem.

Only buy what you can afford and if a wack azz dude don’t like it, make him buy you those $1200 dollar shoes.

The rest of the posts I am planning on the WOC and wealth report don’t really discuss consumption, but let’s go ahead and use this thread to discuss it.

Considering so many women are willing to “invest” in fashion over financial products, how does that impact our potential to accumulate wealth?  How does peer pressure factor into our consumption choices?  What about employment, particularly for those of us who work in industries where our physical presentation can influence how we are perceived? (And it isn’t just appearance based industries like fashion or hip-hop – I’ve heard the same things from friends who work in law, real estate, or financial services who have clients who expect a certain projection of success through material goods before they feel comfortable working with you.)

How does perceived social capital in the dating market (i.e. men like Maino and their preferences) influence what women choose to invest in?

Women of Color and Wealth – Looking at Outliers and Outsiders [Part 5]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is part five of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

Over the course of the Women of Color and Wealth series one question has come up time and time again – what about Asian women? Native women?  Other, more specific breakdowns of different racial/ethnic groups?  Is there data for queer women of color?  For transgender women of color?  Sadly, the answer is no.

The report includes a separate break out discussion of Asian and Native American women, saying (all emphasis mine):

Because Asian Americans and Native Americans comprise a much smaller proportion of the U.S. population than blacks and Hispanics and because most surveys that measure wealth do not oversample these groups, our knowledge about their wealth is less robust—particularly for Native Americans.

According to 2004 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Asian Americans have a higher median net worth than white non-Hispanic households ($144,000 and $137,200, respectively).  Much of this is due to their home equity, as the Asian population is concentrated in a few cities with very high home values. When data is adjusted for these and other factors, Asians have less wealth than whites on similar socioeconomic characteristics. In interpreting the high home equity of Asian Americans, it is also important to bear in mind that they are likely to own and occupy the home with extended family members and are more likely than whites to contribute more than half of their household income to housing costs.

Continue reading

Women of Color and Wealth – Measuring The Intangibles [Part 4]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is part four of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

Heaping trays of Indian food were laid out on the long table. A large, happy crowd gathered in clusters, piling food onto their white Chinet plates. Men made jokes about one another’s love handles and spare tires – things women would never say to one another despite thinking them. Walter handed her a thick paper plate before taking his own. “Get what you like, but we gotta head back soon. Okay?” He spoke to her affectionately, as if she were a little kid.

The food made her mouth water. All around, people spooned food onto their plates, grabbing pieces of warm naan bread. There were pans of bread everywhere. The trays emptied gradually. The group dispersed.

Kevin and Hugh had already returned to the desk. Casey had managed to grab a cocktail-size Samosa and a scoop of biriyani but had hesitated to fill her plate during an interview. Walter’s plate was crammed with a taste of everything.

“Gosh. Girls eat so little,” Walter said with wonder in his voice.

“It happened so fast,” she remarked, her free hand resting at her side.

Walter swept his right arms to the ceiling, gesturing like a ringleader, and said “It’s free food for millionaires.” Continue reading

Women of Color and Wealth – Starting Points and Class Jumping [Part 3]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is part three of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

zero wealth chart

I’m fightin for strength, in the street grindin for cents/
I know I’m ahead of my time but I’m behind on my rent/
Askin Kanye for money just to pay on my gas bill/
He asked me for it back, nigga brush up on your math skills/
Nothin plus zip equals zero; he couldn’t relate/
That nigga ain’t been broke since “H to the Izzo”

–Rhymefest, “Devil’s Pie

For many of us who grow up lower middle class or in poverty, the issues began before we were born. Parents struggling to make ends meet rarely find that things get easier once a child arrives – in general, already strained resources are required to stretch even further. Economically devastated parents generally do not have the resources to pass on to their children – indeed, the children may be asked to help participate in taking care of the bills, or once another income is flowing, provide funds to take care of other members of the family.

Looking at the chart above, single black and latina female households are hit the hardest by these disparities – but what does it really mean when a household has zero or negative wealth? How does it impact a child’s upbringing and future? Continue reading

Women of Color and Wealth – Looking at the Wealth Gap [Part 2]

by Latoya Peterson
mercedes logo

Because so many women of color have such little wealth other than the value of a vehicle, the rest of the paper uses the definition of wealth that excludes vehicles in order to capture the economic vulnerability experienced by women of color.

Excluding vehicles, single black women have a median wealth of $100 and Hispanic women $120 respectively, while their same-race male counterparts have $7,900 and $9,730. The median wealth of single white women is $41,500. To put it another way, single black and Hispanic women have one penny of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts and a tiny fraction of a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by white women. With so little in reserve, half of all single black and Hispanic women could not afford to take an unpaid sick day or to even have a major appliance repaired without going into debt. The precarious financial situation of women of color is also evident when looking at those with zero or negative wealth, (negative wealth occurs when the value of one’s assets is lower than the value of their debts). Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth (see Figure 2).

Pre-retirement wealth disparities for women of color affect them drastically in their retirement years. According to federal poverty standards, poverty rates for people age 65 and over are highest for women of color. In 2007 16.7% of white women living alone were poor, but 26% of Asian women living alone, 38.5% of black women living alone, and 41.1% of Hispanic women living alone were poor. 21

What does it mean when we talk about the difference between wealth and income?  These two terms are not to be conflated.  Someone can be a high earner, but still have no wealth at all – it is as simple as spending more than you earn.  It doesn’t matter what the money is spent on – it can go up your nose, on your feet, to your landlord or thrown in mass amounts on a stage.  However, if you manage to make a million dollars a year, and you spend $1.5 million, you are not wealthy.  Not even close. Continue reading

Women of Color and Wealth – The Scope of The Problem [Part 1]

by Latoya Peterson

Yesterday, a headline in the Post-Gazette worked its way around Twitter:  Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5. Most outlets qualified the link by calling it “shocking” or mentioning the five dollar figure was not a typo.

I called up a fellow young black professional friend of mine and told her about the findings of the study.  “Is it messed up that I’m kind of glad in a way?” she asked, “I mean, all this time I’ve been wondering why I can’t get my shit together, but it turns out I’m normal.” We both laughed at her small attempt at gallows humor around a situation many of us know a little too intimately – when it comes to our white counterparts, women of color are light years behind in wealth.

The study is a new report from The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, titled “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future.”  The report is an in-depth look at the issues in wealth accumulation particular to black women, Latinas, Asian and Native American women.  However, even as this report is one of the most comprehensive I have seen on the subject, the limited data for Asian American and Native American women means that their statistics are limited from entire sections of the report, and discussed in a subsequent section about the need for better stats.  The report’s title is should be a familiar refrain to many black women, but the author of the report, Mariko Chang, kindly includes an explanation of the origin of the phrase:

More than a century ago, the National Association for Colored Women was founded by African American women leaders in response to a vicious attack on the character of African-American women. A few decades distant from the abolition of slavery, the intensification of poverty, discrimination, and segregation impelled these women to action in defense of their race. Their motto was “Lifting as We Climb,” signaling their understanding that no individual woman of color could rise, nor did they want to rise, without the improvement of the whole race. At the top of their agenda were job training, wage equity, and child care: issues that, if addressed, would lift all women, and all people of color.

The lift as we climb refrain was implanted into some of us from birth and a lot of my earliest lessons about black empowerment focused on financial empowerment.  Yet, these adages about saving money, investing in the community, and being a conscious consumer was like propping a footstool against a fifty foot high sheer rock wall.  Continue reading