In the personal finance world, we hardly ever talk about class and privilege. They are uncomfortable topics for most people, because people don’t want to admit they are in a lower class, or they don’t want to acknowledge that certain aspects of who they are have given them some privilege in this world.
We all still want to believe we worked for everything we have. But let’s face it. Women still make less money than men. People who are non-white make less money than their white counterparts.
In different points in our life, we have all been oppressed and privileged.
I have felt and seen extreme sexism because I am female. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some privileges being white. I’ve also been in situations where my class was made very apparent. In addition to my list of the strangest things I’ve done for money, I’ve also worked as a house-cleaner. In NYC, when I was getting desperate I answered an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to clean his apartment. This man was an unemployed ex-Wall street banker, who just sat at home and relaxed while I cleaned his house. It was fine at first, but then he started to get demanding and said I was missing crumbs on the table and I wasn’t “doing a very good job”.
Do you know how humiliating it is to be washing some unemployed man’s dirty skivvies and he’s ordering YOU around? It all seemed so backwards. I only lasted two days. I cried and cried. I never felt so low from a job, and I couldn’t imagine that people do that everyday for a living. But people do. My grandma did it her whole life and supported six kids doing that work.
If class didn’t exist, who would pick up all the shit? Literally. And class is related to income, because income can afford you opportunities to NOT do things, like clean up after yourself.
But what really got me started on this topic was a recent blog post I read about a personal finance retreat in Ecuador, a country affected by poverty. I wrote this comment and many others felt similarly.
“…something about having a retreat about being rich and financially free in a third world country just doesn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t do it….I have some issues with retreats like this and certain blogs, because it all makes it so simple, like “you can do it too”. I do believe with education, hard work, hustling and cutting expenses people can become financially independent, but something that is often missing in this conversation is a global perspective. Saying all of those things is very American. Would we say to people in Ecuador, “Just work harder, cut your expenses” to get out of poverty? No. There are real barriers to financial success, and real privileges for many of us as well.”
That comment pretty much sums up how I feel. The one thing about the personal finance world that drives me nuts is that the global perspective is often lacking. Sometimes it’s not as easy as just “working harder”. Saying that completely ignores the existence of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia and any other –ism you want to throw in there. I’m passionate about personal finance and the idea of being debt-free and financially independent, but what I’m even more passionate about is social justice and equality. I want to check my privilege whenever I’m being a whiny bitch. I want to respect, and acknowledge the work of others in the community and around the world that make our lives a better place. Most of all, I never want to lose my sense of perspective and gratitude.