Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mentality of Poverty - Tia
(Sorry if I come off preachy on this one. It's just this is something that's been bothering me for a while.)


I had a really disturbing conversation with my mother the other day. I think the reason that I was so bothered by it was because her statements reflect the mindset of a lot of people.

As y'all probably know by now I'm planning on moving to the west coast in the fall. (My job is trying to put the breaks on it but it's working out, so no worries.) Anyway, a couple of my dad's old friends from back in the day came by to appraise the house. They're both realtors and agreed to split the commission and cut my dad a break in light of his current condition. Plus they're road dawgs from way back. Omegas (not Q's) and such. After the realtors left my mother called and we talked about the normal stuff before getting around to what my day entailed. I told her that I didn't think I was going to do anything because I was a little tired and I'd just led a guided tour of the house for the realtors. She seemed stunned. She asked, "Your dad is really going to sell the place?"
Tia: Yeah, with his health it's just more stress than it's worth."
Mom: But that's always been your home.
(For those of you who don't know, my mom, my brother and I used to be homeless. And the one stable thing in all of that was my maternal grandparents house and my father's house. When my grandparents died my aunt sold their house so the only place that I've always known I could go to, the place that's always been the same is my dad's house, the place I currently rent.)
T:Yeah. But it's just the best thing for him right now.
M: Well, what will you do if things don't work out in LA?
T: What do you mean?
M: Where will you go if he sells the house? You won't have any where to go if things don't work out in LA. What will you do?
T: I have a job, 2 savings accounts and a 401(k)

And that's when it dawned on me. Because of the poor choices my mother made that left us homeless and later on left her living below the poverty line, she really had no concept of back plans. Or more accurately, back-up funds. In her mind, if my plans don't work out in LA it's game over. There's no other plan, no other place to go, nothing else to do. It's Abject Failure Blvd on Start from Scratch Road. And frankly, it really bothered me.

I'm a hustler. Not the Jay-Z kind of hustla but the kind that never stops. Sometimes it is to my own detriment. I don't like to ask for help even when I know that I should. And then I turn around and bit*h and moan because I don't have anyone to help me. (I know…I know….I'm working on it.) But I think from my dad's work ethic and the struggles I've had with my mom, I resigned myself long ago that I would never go back to having to depend on someone because I didn't work hard and do my own personal best. It's one thing to get laid off. But it's a completely different thing to not have any money because you didn't like your job so you decide to quit and wait for God to "bless you" with another job. So I'm a hustler. I've never been without a job. I worked 2 jobs sometimes just to pay for stuff. The summer after my freshman year I worked two jobs. I worked for 5 hours at McDonald's and then worked 8 hours at Krispy Kreme five days a week. And I walked to work because I didn't have a car. And it was uphill both ways. In the snow. Barefoot. Okay, everything from uphill on was a lie. But the point I'm trying to make isn't that I'm a workaholic, it's that I'm willing to work and plan and SAVE. But I'm starting to realize that a lot of "our people" are not so forward thinking. And it's frightening.

I recently read somewhere that something like 30% of black folks (African Americans for y'all PCers) feel that playing the lottery is a better way to plan for retirement than actually saving and planning for those golden years. I don't know how accurate that is but I know quite a few of my relatives that fall into that category. But most people have a better chance of getting struck by lightening while flying in a airplane than they do of winning the lottery.

Part of me wants to take out an ad in every major publication, billboards in all the major cities, and commercials on BET and the soon to be defunct UPN and shout, "STOP BUYING LOTTO TICKETS, $200 TENNIS SHOES, SEAN JOHN AND THE REST AND SAVE YOUR MONEY!!!!!" We have allowed ourselves to be suckered, bamboozled, led astray, run amuck, led asunder by media and our fellow man. We have to have the most up-to-date Dooney and Burke purse right now. Damn the cost. We have to have a fresh pair of Ones to match every outfit. And that parking space outside of out 450 sq. ft apartment just wouldn't look right without a $20,000 car parked in it. And all the while your bank account is so far in the red the Chexsystem has a picture of you hanging in their foyer as public enemy number 1. There just seems to be a mentality of poverty that is running rampant in our society and it has got to stop.

Now I know some of y'all will probably blast me by saying that a lot of people don't make enough to save. I'm not talking about those people. That's a completely different story for another time. (For all of the money that we've wasted on restoring democracy in Iraq, why can't we help some of our own country's working poor?) I'm talking about the people that make a decent enough living to pay bills and in theory could save if they would stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. I once heard Nelly say that he saves 1/3 of his money, invests 1/3 of his money and spends 1/3 of his money. I was glad to hear it. Although I've been down with Nelly since the days of the St. Lunatics I know he is not a phenomenal enough of a rapper to have any real staying power. And apparently he knows it too. It's good to see a brotha planning ahead.

I guess what I'm saying is we have to do better. Back in the day our grandparents didn't trust banks so they saved their money in mattresses. But we don't even do that any more. And the reality of our situations don't fully hit us until something bad happens. If your car broke down right now, would you have the money to fix it? If you had to fly to see a dying relative would you be able to afford the ticket? The answer for most of us is no. And I hate that. We have to start planning ahead. We have to start thinking long term. We have to start saving for worst case scenarios. I'm no doomsday prophet wishing ill on you the reader. I am, however, something of a realist. And I know that life happens. And you don't want to be caught out there when it does. People, stop spending. Do you really need those Jimmy Choo's right now? Drive that car a little bit longer. So what if it doesn’t have a navigational system. You ain't going nowhere but work and church anyway. And the lotto only works for people in remote areas of West Virginia and the Dakotas. You're probably not going to win that $57 million. Do better. Think about tomorrow, rather than this instance. I'm not saying deprive yourself. I'm sitting right now listening to my very expensive iPod. But I don't have it at the expense of paying my electric bill or my Amex payment. Plan first, play second. Because broke is not hot.

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