One of the most interesting things about the time we live in right now is when obvious truths are put in your face, and you realize how dense you have been not to see them before. One of the most obvious ways for us to be part of combating institutionalized racism is seeing where our dollars go.
But it was never obvious to me.
I’m going to put some facts and numbers here. They aren’t meant to horrify you or impress you, depending on how you think we are doing as a family with our money. They are meant to be an exercise in self-assessment for me, with a degree of accountability by putting it “out there,” and yes, an exercise in repentance as well. It might give you thoughts about how to assess where your dollars go too.
- What’s my belief about money?
I think this is important. We may all have different answers. That’s ok. But what I’ve been asking myself recently is this: what do I believe about money and where it should go? That’s a hard one—like most, I want my savings pot to grow without effort, my spending pot to be endless, and giving . . . well, where should that fit?
This states the obvious: there are three things we can do with our money—we can give it away, spend it, and save it. I’d like to say we always handle our money in this order of priority, but that’s not always true. In addition, this is an indication of privilege. Not everyone can make ends meet day to day. I’m privileged to be able to do this because the road was paved for me in ways it wasn’t for others. (Perhaps another topic for Ideas for White People is replaying my life and supposing what it might have been like as a non-white person. I wonder how I would have been able to get that swimming scholarship to Penn State when my local pool in Portsmouth, VA, where I learned to swim and competed until I was twelve, didn’t allow black people to be members or visitors?)
I do believe we should give, save and spend, and I do believe it should be in that order (you might change that order; that’s fine), even if I don’t live it perfectly. So, that takes me to the next question.
- How do I give?
When it comes to giving, I also believe in giving to our place of worship first. In the past year, that has been muddled somewhat as we moved to Baltimore City and wanted to worship where we lived and struggled to find a fit. That’s a book unto itself but suffice it to say my family gives to three churches: our current church, our former church, and a church we attend in Massachusetts when we visit our daughter in college. We also give to a faith-based organization in the City as well that I’ve been involved with for a number of years. Thus, our monthly giving amount is roughly allocated like this:
40% Faith-Based Organization in City
30% Church A in City
30% Church B in County
A smidgen: Church C in MA
What I am assessing now is how these organizations (organizations I love and care about) are impacting their city, state, and beyond on a myriad of important areas, and for the first time, how they are handling or entering into discipleship about religious social teaching on the issue of racism—personal, yes, but most especially institutional. I’ve made some early decisions about this but nothing final (and nothing ever will be, since we should be constantly evaluating our finances, actively thinking about where our money should go). I’ve stopped automatic giving so I can make sure I am evaluating this. I don’t agree with giving or withholding money based on how well you think an organization did the last week. The point, though, is to ruminate about this, to challenge ourselves around the topic of how we give, where we give, and what that says about our priorities. Perhaps set a reminder every three months to consider your giving (and remember, being able to have automatic giving is also an indication of privilege). We need to be wise and self-evaluate our giving over time.
- How do I save?
Our family put money in retirement accounts (another clear indication of privilege). We are not financially savvy folks, so we’ve recently retained a financial advisor with a firm that we were drawn to because, yes, they do a very good job in their area of financial planning and investing, but also because we saw the way they also give charitably, with progressive goals for how much they will be giving away – a long term plan for giving, in fact. We also want to learn more about social conscious giving, which we’ve considered in the past. There are issues with that type of investing as well (my early and elementary learning thus far: it’s not as “socially conscious” as you might want it to be), so this will take far more study and thought.
- How do I spend?
When we moved to the City, our goal was to live locally as much as possible—worship locally, work locally, and spend locally. As for spending, we almost exclusively shop in Baltimore City. However, I can’t say we had a goal of specifically patronizing minority-owned businesses. We are researching that more now. Of course, for now, we are still on quarantine, but I will say that I am learning how to do this more online. This is not to say I won’t shop at places that are white-owned, of course. But as we know, like attracts like, and where do I mostly shop and dine? You guessed it. By broadening my shopping and dining experiences, I put dollars into minority-owned businesses and broaden my own experience as well.
I don’t know what I’m doing, folks. This plan may well be flawed. But it seems like the right direction for us. For me, prayer is important and so I take these matters to God. In typical fashion, he doesn’t lead me to answers as quickly as I would like.
I do know that thinking about what we do with our money is important. If you are a person of faith, you know what you do with money–which belongs to God and is not yours anyway. If you are not a person of faith, this is also important to you and the causes that matter to you.
Where do your dollars go? More importantly, where should they go?