It isn’t surprising that so many people today are frustrated with capitalism and earning money. After all, the wage discrepancies in the U.S. lead to some serious economic disparities. Some may assume that the differences in income stem from a lack of inherited wealth in marginalized communities. While this may be true, the issue isn’t being corrected, as women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color are still being paid less than their male, straight, cis, and white counterparts.
According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, African American women in same-sex relationships have an incredibly high poverty rate, with 24.7 percent considered impoverished. The same study explains that if both racial and gender equality gaps were removed, poverty would decrease by 20 percent for unmarried individuals.
This kind of data explains why so many people feel that capitalism is inherently evil, or a game that can’t be won by certain groups of people.
As a bisexual woman from a poor family struggling to get ahead, I’ve run into many of the frustrations that seem to be common to marginalized groups. Without a financial safety net to fall back on from my family, I’ve never had the option of taking on a free internship, or the low-paying jobs in my field, which meant schooling had to be accompanied by 40 hours a week of paid work. I’ve also had to deal with sexism in the workplace and discrimination when it comes to the quality of my work as a woman, and I’ve felt the need to cover my sexual identity in order to stay employed.
To get even more perspective on financial privilege, I spoke to someone with similar experiences, but also with an added “layer” of marginalization. As a white woman, my privilege has often helped me scrape by even with other factors working against me. As a short, chubby, white girl, I’ve mostly been perceived as cute and harmless despite my radical political ideas or musical and cultural preferences. This worked to my advantage, a privilege that people of color do not necessarily get to enjoy.
Ru Johnson, founder of hip-hop agency Roux Black, freelance writer, and entrepreneur, had a lot to say on this issue — as I knew she would. In many ways, Ru’s experiences have been similar to my own. With no trust fund money in the bank, she has funded all her own endeavors and works hard to do so. However, she faces some unique challenges.
“As a woman of color, but I mean specifically as a black woman, it has been difficult to put my skill set on a level playing field with people who might be white or male,” Johnson explained. “I don’t think I have struggled with that; I’ve always understood that.”
Some might ask why those with added financial struggles don’t just give up. But Johnson sees a positive side to her struggle.
“I feel being a black woman in a creative industry has definitely been an advantage to me because I’ve had this cultural understanding of society,” she said. “So in a lot of ways it is an advantage to me to be a creative black woman because I know how to use my culture and turn that into work.”
Not to mention that for those who have to struggle financially rather than have everything handed to them, there is really no other choice. As Johnson points out, “to be able to opt out of capitalist society is in itself totally privileged.”
For marginalized Americans making money and working hard are necessary. As long as capitalism persists, poverty and disparity will exist, but hard work and determination will allow people to rise up and overcome the very system that oppresses them.