Commentary: A Question for Black People…What’s Your Focus?

We should give as much attention to financial literacy as we did to the presidential election.

Posted: 01/10/2013 03:09 PM EST

The year 2012 was a very exciting year for politics. We witnessed a rigorous presidential campaign and a presidential debate that received the highest television ratings in history for a program of its kind. However, for the Black community, was this increased political focus a distraction from other important issues?

I am not saying that one should not focus on politics; I was a true “politics addict” during this past election. However, as much as we may be caught up in the political fever of D.C. the truth of the matter is that we have limited control over what politicians do when they go to D.C. The decisions we make with our own finances on a day to day basis are completely within our own control. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to focus more on issues within our own control such as our own economic survival?

Consider these statistics:

— Fifty-five percent of African-Americans are unbanked or under-banked, meaning they do not have a bank account or the appropriate bank account.  (Federal Deposit Corporation survey)

— About a quarter of all Hispanic (24 percent) and Black (24 percent) households in 2009 had no assets other than a vehicle, compared with just 6% of white households. These percentages are little changed from 2005. (Pew Research)

— The median amount Black households reported saving on a monthly basis is $189, compared to $367 among White households. This is the first time in a decade that African-American households have reported saving less than $200 per month. (Ariel Investments 2010 Black Investor survey)

— “Ninety three percent of our income is spent outside the community” –Lee Jenkins, author of Taking Care of Business

— "Blacks on the average are six times more likely than Whites to buy a Mercedes, and the average income of a Black who buys a Jaguar is about one-third less than that of a White purchaser of the luxury vehicle.” –Earl Graves, Black Enterprise Magazine

Those statistics for the most part are stats that demonstrate issues that are not political, but economical. A politician can’t write legislation to force anyone to open a bank account, save more income as opposed to consume it, spend money within your own community or purchase a car within your means of income. Whether you are upset at Mitt Romney’s loss or elated due to the victory of President Obama, principles of financial literacy are a critical component of the foundation for economic advancement within your household and your community.

I wrote the book Living in the Village because I wanted to shift the focus of communities to what I feel has been neglected for far too long toward a focus on the economic survival of the Black community. 

As we live in this village (otherwise known as a community), we must learn how to prioritize our thoughts and our actions based on what is truly important. In my workshops I always ask why financial literacy is important and I usually get self-serving answers such as it helps to fulfill the desire to purchase a home, send kids to school and plan for retirement. However, in addition to these important individual goals, we must also pay attention to the larger picture of our role and our contribution in our community. 

Financial literacy not only helps your own household, but it puts you in a stronger position to be able to give back to the community and make the community stronger economically.  It is hard to help people if you are going through foreclosure or being distracted by bill collectors calling you for late payments. However, if you manage your resources well enough to eventually start your own business then there can possibly be others in your community who will have gainful employment because of your business. We talk a lot about the circulation of the Black dollar in the Black community but it is difficult to create economic advancement for our communities if we are constantly spending our dollars unwisely outside our community.  The essence of economic survival for our communities is found in our willingness to support our own communities by adhering to sound money management principles in our homes.

So let’s pay attention to politics AND how and where we spend our money, improve our credit, plan/start our own businesses and do whatever is necessary to create a stronger financial foundation for future generations.

Ryan Mack is the author of Living in the Village.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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