October 3, 2019

Money At The Intersection of Gender, Race and Culture.

In this article Maryam Nahhal, a part-time writer at Medium and tech enthusiast, dives into the taboo subject of money! She takes us on a journey through her personal experiences with money and illustrates how much our thoughts and feelings towards money have been shaped heavily by our gender, race and culture. As a POC who works in tech you may be all too familiar with the new issues that arise once you start making money, especially in terms of how you use that money. I think Biggie put it perfectly when he said "Mo' money, Mo' problems" 😅. So if you're someone who is looking to revise your perspective and attitude towards money then this article is definitely a good place to start. 

As a full-time employee and no longer a broke student (though I am a broke adult, Londoners y’all get me), money has been playing on my mind relentlessly. How to make more of it, save it, spend it, invest it… And inevitably, as most women my age that do not work in finance, I feel clueless. I do not understand what’s the deal with assets, portfolios, compound interest, bonds, stocks, shares, etc. etc…

But as the Aquarius that I am (we like intellectual rigour and abstraction), I have been reflecting about money, doing my fair share of googles and asking dumb questions. The main outcome of this gargantuan intellectual endeavour? Realising that my approach towards, understanding of and relationship with money needs to change (if I plan to survive in this reckless economy).

In my teens and early twenties I would imagine myself as a social justice warrior working for one of the big international organisations, saving lives, giving powerful speeches, and writing books about it. Money was never in the picture. I was never motivated by it — and was extremely judgemental of the people around me that were. In my daydreams there was never any space for “boring” money questions. It was a space for idealism and complete oblivion.

Fast forward a few years and the oblivion has fully caught up with me. It is defiantly looking at me in the face and demanding attention, forcing me to face the reality that — whether I like it or not— I need money. So, as a diligent Aquarius, I have tried to understand where my relationship with money comes form, and unpack the environment that shaped said relationship. How were my money habits forged, together with the guilt, shame and fear around them? Here’s my hot take.

HOT TAKE N. 1: How being a child of immigrants impacted my relationship with money, i.e. race is class.

My parents emigrated to Italy in the late 80s, and were part of the first small wave of North Africans to settle in Piedmont. With no education and, quite frankly, a dreadfully racist environment, priority number one for many people like my parents was survival — both in terms of making ends meet, but also avoiding being set on fire whilst driving or sitting in their car (literally). I wasn’t raised in a household where there was extra money that could be put to work to make more profit. My parents didn’t come from money and their education around it amounted to “money in money out”. And so did mine. I also grew up in a Muslim household, and given the Islamic principle of no-interest banking, most conventional ways of making money were out of bounds. This meant I had zero knowledge about investing and saving because I had no examples of this around me.

When it came to my own education, my parents were very strict and adamant that me and my siblings succeeded in securing the highest levels of qualifications. Whilst there was a slight pressure for me to follow the path of other successful uncles and cousins by studying law (brown kids you get me), my family’s general understanding was that if you study and work hard to get good grades, tonnes of money will be delivered to your door on demand. All you have to do is study. I wasn’t particularly guided in my choice of subjects (beyond the “be a lawyer or a doctor” encouragement). So I carried on with my idealistic pursuit of justice by studying International Relations, with no clear objective or understanding of where my degree could get me. I’m in no way blaming my parents, however. They did the absolute best they could with the limited means they had, and gave me and my siblings everything they could. And I turned out just fine (with an existential crisis here and there, but who doesn’t have one every once in a while?).

I also desperately lacked role models. There weren’t any successful people of colour doing great things on TV or newspapers or magazines. The only ones I saw were portrayed to be murderers, rapists or thieves. They spoke Italian with an accent, had an unruly behaviour and wore dirty clothes. They were also mostly men. The women I saw in popular culture were exclusively cleaners or caregivers. For all the negative sides of social media, I for one am very grateful that my younger sisters have access to a world where they can see themselves as something more than oppressed and voiceless Muslim women.

HOT TAKE N. 2: Gender gender gender…

I won’t rant too much about this. There is a multitude of studies demonstrating that women are generally more likely to pursue low-power/lower-income careers. You can read more about this here.

As for me, besides my natural inclination towards the humanities (natural inclination or gendered social conditioning, who knows?), my career choices were never driven by an urge to pursue money because it is not what I was taught women do. Women who are motivated by money are selfish, they are not nurturing, and will end up alone and childless. Remember, I was supposed to become a social justice warrior because women, by definition, care exclusively about others. Reconciling my newfound desire for money with the internalised misogyny that is telling me I am bad for wanting it is proving to be harder than I thought (raise your hand if you ever felt guilty and almost criminal for asking for a DESERVED pay rise 🙋🏽‍♀).

Where does this leave me? I am determined to carry on educating myself about money, and intentionally pursuing it. Aspiring to be “woke”, critical, and wanting a better world are my bread and butter. But part of this is ensuring that the next generation of brown and black kids have a much better starting point than we did, that they have access to travel, resources, experiences and knowledge to allow them to navigate a world that is set up against them.

P.S. This are my lived experiences. You might relate to some, or none at all, but that does not make them less real or valuable.

Maryam Nahhal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.