The foregoing article was originally written July 2012:
Warning: If you reply by saying something to the effect of, “it’s not all, you’re generalizing,” calling me a “self-hater” or making it seem as if some secret group of white people are remotely controlling you and forcing you to self-destruct, I’m gonna block your stupid ass. That being said, let us now proceed…..
Here’s a topic I’ve been meaning to write about but never quite got around to it. But this is a serious issue in our country that I feel I should explain to the black community in a way in which no one else has ever attempted.
But first, let me state that I don’t intend to spark any racial debates. This isn’t some anti-white/black topic. If you feel compelled to spew some racial hatred or conspiracy bullshit, this isn’t the topic for you. Anyone who’s read my writings in the past knows that I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. So now you’re asking “Black consumerism in America — what does this mean?”
In short, black consumerism describes the high number of black consumers there are in America compared to the low number of black producers. For blacks to be such a small percentage of the American population (13.6%), blacks tend to do a great amount of the spending. Not only has consumerism gotten a hold of African-Americans, we’ve managed to combine it with materialism…which is a deadly combination in terms of economic production. Let me tell you a quick story of my childhood to explain what I mean.
During my school years, kids would often torment me because I didn’t wear name brand clothes/shoes. When I was in kindergarten, there was a group of kids who’d gang up on me and would harass me daily, and would even try to fight me in some cases, because, again, they didn’t like my clothes/shoes. For my family, spending lots of money on name brand clothes wasn’t a priority and rightfully so. Fast forward to my seventh grade year in middle school — my mom decided to buy my brother and me a pair of Jordan’s with the Michael Jordan jersey to match. I’m gonna guess that she spent well over $500. Amazingly, when I wore my new shoes and jersey to school, the harassment ceased. Students treated me like royalty. Then on days when I wore a different pair of shoes, we were back to the same normal harassment. On the flip side, there was kids who tried to jump me in order to steal my shoes and jersey.
Let’s fast forward a few years into my 10th grade to senior years in High School. During this time, I held an after school job. When I received my paychecks, I’d get the latest brand name clothes, shoes, expensive necklaces with medallions, watches and bracelets to match, etc. Heck, I even had the silver teeth. I didn’t know any better. I was only trying to fit in, something I’ve come to realize as a mistake today.
Needless to say, these peers of mine came to school daily wearing the most popular brand names at that time. Mind you, we lived in the same neighborhoods — meaning, they weren’t any “richer” than us. When I got older, nothing really changed. Women wouldn’t date me because they claimed I was “too cheap” to buy any “real clothes.” Whatever that means. These same women would fault me because I didn’t drive the latest model car. Mind you, every car I’ve ever owned (except one), I always paid cash and owned it outright. Which means no car note for me! What’s even crazier is that these women who demanded that I have the latest model car, the latest style of clothing, a high paying job, etc., had none of those things themselves.
So that’s my premise. Now here’s my main point. Black people in America have come to worship brand names and to spend unbelievably amounts of money on them. Research has shown that African Americans spend over $500 Billion a year on goods and services, while our earning power is $840 Billion (and has been estimated to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015)! That means that 59.6% of black America’s income is spent on material bullshit. This same study has shown that African Americans spend only $320 Million on books. At first, corporate America hadn’t noticed this until the early 2000′s. Since then, they’ve exploited it, and rightfully so. Now I see teenagers and young adults committing crimes (even murder) just to buy these expensive items. This doesn’t only pertain to clothing items, this materialistic mind state of African-American goes all the way from the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the beverages we drink, all the way down to the foods we eat. Are we paying more for MORE or for better quality? Of course not. But, not a single fuck is given about quality. Most blacks only care about being able to brag about consuming a product with a certain name tag with a high price tag.
I’m a student of Finance and Economics, so I’m pretty educated on how something of this nature can effect us in the long run. We have got to start teaching our children, from an early age to start saving and producing instead of being wasteful consumers. Of course consumerism doesn’t apply only to African Americans, this is an American problem. But, blacks tend to do the majority of spending. Here’s how it affect us economically: By consuming so much and producing so little while also not saving any money (the average American saves less than 3% of their income), households tend to spend more than they earn. Which means that most households are living on borrowed money a.k.a debt. All to fuel their consumer lifestyle. I’ve saw black people who’d go without food in their refrigerator or without lights just to purchase a $400 outfit! And this is the same group of people who, when you ask them why don’t they own any businesses, will tell you that it’s because they don’t have the money to do so. Of course we know this to be completely false. The money is there, it just doesn’t go to the right places.
Now the question is: what do I mean by producing? This simply means creating instead of consuming. Foreigners (including Africans) have no problem coming to America and becoming producers. But your average black American laugh and make fun of them, but then are jealous a few years down the road when those same foreigners are living pretty well.
I see parents buy some of the most expensive clothes and other items for their children, when they barely have enough to live on as it is. Infant babies wearing Jordan’s. Really!? Never mind that they’re gonna grow out of them in a month. So, this is what we’re teaching our kids…to be label whores and high-dollar consumers. It’s not smart to have every single big name product in every category when you’re living in the projects or in some apartment. Just saying! How about trying to OWN something instead of trying to look good by making someone else rich and wearing their name? But of course this stuff goes a lot deeper than what I’ve explained. As black youth, we see rappers and other celebrities sporting these big-ticket items to suggest that’s what it takes to be “cool.” Of course that is no excuse, but I point that out because some of us may not be aware of how something so simple can have such a huge impact on our lives.
Knowing what I know now, if I could go back to that event in 1997 where my mom bought me the expensive Jordans and matching jersey, I’d tell her NOT to, but instead, put that money toward something more useful and economical. When I look back on my life today and think about the torment I suffered as a kid due to not being a walking billboard for companies, I feel no regrets. In fact, it taught me to be strong, because now in my adult years, I don’t care about name brand stuff, labels, or rocking high-dollar items just to impress others. I live a very frugal, conservative life. I probably own more books than I do outfits and shoes combined.
Back to a point I made earlier — we’ve got to teach our children to be financially responsible. I don’t want to hear any bullshit about “no one taught me, so I can’t teach my children.” That’s nothing but an excuse. In fact, that’s all the more reason to teach your offspring. If you don’t break the cycle, it’d be pretty unrealistic to expect your child to. It has to start somewhere. Besides, it’s not too late for YOU.
In closing, I’d like to mention a story I heard involving Oprah Winfrey. I haven’t verified this story yet, but, it still makes the point of this article. The story goes — Oprah supposedly built a school in an African village. African Americans were outraged and labeled Oprah all kinds of vicious “sell-out” type of insults. They said, “why would she build a school in Africa when black students in America can use schools?” I was told that Oprah, in response said, “When I asked the kids in Africa what they wanted, they wanted a school so that they can learn. But when I asked black American kids what they wanted, they wanted clothes, shoes and other material things.” Now think about that…..
Thanks for reading!
Sean T. Carter
“We live in deeds, not years. In thoughts not breaths, in feelings, not in figures on a dial.”
Sean T. Carter is an experienced investor, entrepreneur, research and writer for The Opulent Group, a company formed to serve the needs of up and coming entrepreneurs, investors, and scholars who wish to reach opulent goals and stay consciously afloat in these fast changing times.