Unpacking privilege, sharing wealth: Reflections from Making Money Make Change conference

For white donors with class privilege to address the racial wealth divide, we must reckon with class and align resources with movement work.

Written by: Reed Young

Date: November 16, 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since I returned from Resource Generation’s Making Money Make Change conference in Minnesota, and although it may have been rainy outside the conference room, a fire was stoked inside me.

For its annual retreat, Resource Generation brought together community organizers, social justice funders and young people with wealth and class privilege to engage in dialogue about the roots of the racial wealth divide, to explore personal class stories and to create action plans to leverage power and privilege.

The opening plenary featured a sobering conversation about the racial wealth divide in America. It cited a 2014 study by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies, which showed that about 80% of Americans own 7% of the money and white households had a median net wealth of $116,800, while Black households had $1,700 and Latinx families had $2,000.

(The study didn’t include median net wealth stats for Asian-Americans or Indigenous people due to a lack of good data.)

These wealth disparities are the results of years of systemic barriers that have kept people of color from developing wealth.

While these groups were historically shut-out of opportunity, white identifying individuals have received disproportionate boosts to building wealth from land grants to colonists, open doors to European immigration, the New Deal and tax cuts to asset owners.

I come from a family in Washington, D.C., that has benefited from governmental favoritism of whites at the expense of systemic oppression of people of color.

During a white caucus group, I had the chance to unpack and confront my fear and anxiety about my privilege and wealth.

Through sharing my “money story” with others, I identified the systemic boosts that have specifically helped my family accumulate wealth, such as the public disinvestment in urban areas and public-private housing partnerships that have benefited developers.

It was difficult to recognize that my family benefitted while others did not.

But I was also encouraged at the conference to envision a new relationship with money that places the collective first, links my money stories to others and allows me to transform my guilt and shame into love in order to act in solidarity across race and class differences.

Next steps: Here are some practices the Making Money Make Change conference highlighted:

  • Learn financial literacy: Impact investor Rachel Robasciotti explained how the language of economics and philanthropy are often a barrier to discussing money. By learning about investments, stocks and bonds, and philanthropic giving, we can develop tools to understand wealth and leverage it strategically.
  • Fund all parts of the social movement ecosystem, including the vision setters: Aaron Tanaka of the Boston Ujima project shared his work to build alternative economies. Investors can help transition economies by placing resources into community-based organizations that distribute ownership and democratize decision-making. The Ujima Project’s model allows members to decide what they need most in a community, provides businesses that have been historically marginalized access to capital to launch – both of which are exemplified in the Cero Coop, a worker owned composting business that the Ujima Project supports.
  • Don’t just invest, be sure to divest: This is a popular framework included in The Movement for Black Lives policy platform. Chordata Capital founder Tiffany Brown reiterated this idea in a workshop and highlighted the need to align investments with philanthropic giving by divesting from extractive businesses and investing in socially responsible ones. By pulling money out of businesses like big banks and putting it in local banks like Village Financial in Minneapolis, funders can support banks that provide capital to those who may not otherwise be able to, rather than banks that have a history predatory loans and redlining.
  • Commit to the journey: In an evening plenary, Thenjiwe Harris from Blackbird energized the room by asserting the most important thing young people can do is to commit to the journey of learning and supporting movement work.

Through exploring my story, building relationships across class and race differences, and aligning my resources with social movements, I can step into my class privilege with integrity and help, not harm.

For me, the conversation continues now that I’m back home.

I recently switched my money to a local bank that predominantly gives community development loans. I became a monthly sustainer to a few new organizations that focus on the root causes of economic, racial and social injustice. And, this holiday season, I hope to have a discussion with my family not only about where resources are given, but also where they come from.

I encourage other people who carry class, white or male privilege to start identifying where in their own communities there is power and start organizing it.

Reed Young is events and webinars intern at NCRP. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.