I would like to say that I am above watching trash TV; but that would be a lie. There is something about laying in the bed eating bad shit and watching bad shit that somehow makes me feel so good. So I do it. Heck, adult life is sometimes hard, so once (okay twice) a week, if I indulge in something that may lower my IQ and increase my weight—I’m cool with it. The mini-escape is needed.
Last night, as it stormed outside, I curled up in my posturepedic, with a plate of BBQ, collard greens and potato salad, and turned on the Real Housewives of Potomac, the latest installment, of the Real Housewives franchise. I was particularly interested in this one because for 12 years, I lived not too far from where this show is filmed. Plus, this one has an all Black cast, similar to The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
The best thing about watching these ridiculous shows is railing about how ridiculous the show is with your friends later. You know how we do, “Girl, did you watch that mess last night?”
Guuuuurl, don’t even get me started. That was just a hot, ghetto mess.”
Yet, we don’t miss a show…. ever.
I have a love/hate relationship with these shows—like the song that you love for the beat, but you hate the lyrics. If it comes on at a party, you can’t help but to groove to it, but then when you are driving and hear the content more clearly (particularly, because you are now sober) you are appalled at the disgusting words. You agree, philosophically that no song should celebrate or advocate the degradation of women; but that beat is dope. That’s the best analogy I have for how I feel about the Black Housewives (Atlanta and now Potomac).
The biggest complaint that most people have about these shows is the cat-fighting. It’s tough to watch women act so ugly towards one another: throwing drinks on each other, pulling weaves, and liberally throwing shade. Most of us depend on our girlfriends to get us through the tough times and to celebrate the best times, so the outrageous behavior is simultaneously engrossing and disheartening.
The cat-fighting isn’t my biggest complaint; what bugs me is the cause of the fighting—social rank. Just about every fight seems to be about who can out-bougie, out-class, out-spend, or out-pedigree, whom. Who is the richest, classiest and most connected? The Real Housewives of Potomac seems to be centered around this theme.
Now, let me say that the Black Housewives show isn’t alone in this theme; the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills follows the same script. That show doesn’t bother me at all however. Why? Black people can’t afford to act like that—literally and figuratively.
Slavery technically ended in 1863 (though most slaves weren’t aware of the proclamation until 1865). Even without taking into account Jim Crow Laws and rampant racism, African Americans have been free from slavery for only 152 years. Consider this: Counting from the arrival of the first slave ship, Blacks were slaves in America a century longer than they have been free.
For most people that means that they are just a few generations outside of slavery. Sadly, it is almost impossible (if not impossible) for Black people to have generational wealth. So, hearing Karen, one of the characters on Real Housewives of Potomac, talk about old money is better than new money was ludicrous. Baby doll, you aren’t a Vanderbilt, a Dupont, or a Rockefeller. If your great, great, granny was a seamstress for master rather than a field hand, she was still a slave. Nine times out of ten, currently, you have some cousins and aunties who are country as a neckbone sandwich and have never stepped foot in a Neiman Marcus. So, the only thing “old” is your tired line. “Old money?” . . . doubtful.
So let’s talk about new money. How are we, Black people, fairing now? The average White household has 16 times the wealth as the average Black household. In other words, the typical black household now has just 6% of the wealth of the typical white household; the typical Latino household is fairing a bit “better” at just 8%.
But, what if you are part of the Black Bourgeoisie, so to speak (let’s peg that as the top 1% of American households by income). Nearly 96.1 percent of the 1.2 million households in the top one percent are white, a total of about 1,150,000 households. These families were found to have a median net asset worth of $8.3 million dollars. In stark contrast, black households are a mere 1.4 percent of the top one percent by income, which is equal to 16,800 households. The median net asset wealth of that group is just $1.2 million dollars. Using this data reflects that only about 8,400 of the over 14 million U.S. African American households have $1.2 million dollars or more in net assets.
“White families hold 90 percent of the national wealth. Hispanic families hold 2.3 percent of the national wealth. Black families hold 2.6 percent of the national wealth.” So, I’m just trying to figure out, what in the hell we are fighting over. Relatively, we Black folks (even those in the top 1%) are still broke compared to most of America’s population. You think you are better than your neighbor because of the fabulous vacation you had? The family 5 miles from you owns the resort. You want brag about your $500 dinner at a fancy restaurant; ask Emeril, Michael Mina or Tyler Florence if they are impressed (‘cause they own that restaurant — and many more). Even if your husband plays on or coaches for an NBA basketball team; there is a guy who owns the basketball team (as a freaking hobby). So, I am just confused why people spend so much energy over letting others know how fabulous they are.
Now I am not saying that all of us shouldn’t be proud of our accomplishments—whatever they are; but we should not use our status as weapons against one another. Doing that truly makes us the proverbial “crabs in a bucket” because comparatively 99.9% of our folks are crabs.
We should focus on crawling out of the bucket. As a group we should be talking about building wealth, not comparing our wealth because frankly we are at the bottom. If we focus so much on competing with the person/s at the bottom next to us—the bottom is where we will stay. African Americans spend over $2 billion on tennis shoes every year. Research has proven that Blacks spend up to 30% more than whites of comparable income on visible goods like clothing, cars and jewelry. I assert that this distinction in spending is partially due to us focusing on the micro instead of the macro. We get so wrapped up in having the nicest car on our street; that we fail to save money to invest in the business that will allow us to move off of our street. Sadly, for far too many, the family car ranks as the most significant household asset. Eliminating the value of household cars drops the average net assets of Black Americans to a mere $1,700.
So, if we could get out of this cycle of competing against each other, of trying to outrank each other, then perhaps we could gain real power, real wealth and our economic strength could match our strength as a people.
Originally published 1/25/16