Ever since I can remember, I have always asked my partner how I looked when going to fancy places because my number one concern is having people think I look poor. While this statement may rub some folks the wrong way, it’s a reality for someone like myself who has worked extremely hard to get out “the hood”.
I have earned every degree you can name, and even with a doctorates degree in education, I can still see the way that people treat me in my day-to-day interactions. It is almost like people are surprised that a black 32-year-old man is out here living his best life. But this is the difference between white poverty and black poverty—no matter how much money I make and no matter how many degrees I attain, imposter syndrome will always tell me that I am not as good as my white counterparts.
I can recall an experience last year where I went to rent a car because my own car needed some work. Upon arriving at the rental car service, the service rep explained that the only two cars they had on the lot were a BMW Crossover and a Jaguar Sedan. Both cars would be given to me at the standard price, but the first thing my mind went to was, “There is no way anyone would ever believe that I could afford these two cars.” For the entire weekend that I had the BMW, I drove the car with fear of getting pulled over, and was beyond relief when I was able to take the car back to the rental office.
The reality is that for black people, being poor is more than economic. It is more than what type of car you drive or what neighborhood that you live in. For black poor people, being poor is often a mindset that can take a lifetime to change.
It is worrying that if your outward appearance doesn’t match the culture of a place, you will face certain elements of discrimination, even if you CAN afford to be there.
It is fear of being pulled over in the wrong area for looking suspicious.
It is calling for help from the police and fearing that you might lose your life over the systematic fear law enforcement has regarding black people.
It is always systematic.
Being black and poor means constantly having to remind people that you carry the double burden of poverty, in which you are always battling issues pertaining to your race, and the struggle of classism at the same time. Being black and poor means you are always having to navigate the intersections of oppression that take place when you are fighting to achieve an equitable standard of living.
It will forever be about the way that you are treated, even in places that you feel that you have the right to be. (Higher education anyone?)
The access to care, assistance and support to get out of said poverty for black individuals must be considered when talking about the divide. Several studies have shown that black families have lived in poverty for centuries and often said poverty is passed down to the next generation. We must continue to reflect on the idea that in order for ANY black person to attain half of the wealth that their white colleague may have in his family, it could take half a lifetime.
While race and poverty are not synonymous, black people continue to be a victim of both. We must acknowledge not only the racial wealth gap, but the struggles that all black people face when they try to change their situation.
The struggle is real y’all, and it is even more real for black people.