Money and mental health as stand-alone topics are riddled with taboos across the general public. For Black men, the relationship between the two is nuanced with a complexity that exists at the intersection of
- And safety.
Although the same can be said for men and women of every background, the complex relationship between money and mental health for Black men is unique in that at one time Black men existed as a form of currency in the US via chattel slavery. In the uphill battle to be valued and recognized externally as men, while navigating feelings around self-worth that are often correlated with how much money one has, the mental and emotional significance of what money represents is magnified.
This is why financial trauma must be examined not only from the perspective of acute instances of financial stress or hardship experienced within one’s lifetime but also as a sustained trauma traveling through the DNA and the psyche across generations.
Beliefs About Money
What you believe about money has a direct impact on financial outcomes. Looking at money as a prize to be won rather than a tool to be used results in a different kind of inflation than what you hear about in the news. This inflation speaks to the weight of money’s intangible value or what money represents.
How success is commonly defined or pop culture’s emphasis on hustle culture doesn’t acknowledge historical or present day barriers to financial success that may result in feelings of worthlessness tied to a lack of money. Nor does it account for the hypervigilance that places the pursuit of money above things like physical and mental health, experiences, and even family.
These beliefs lend to behaviors with money or its acquisition that range in expression from:
- Fear of taking risks;
- Distrust or isolation;
- Extremes in money vigilance;
- Flamboyance or overspending;
While the drivers of these behaviors might exist internally, their outward expression certainly ties into perceptions around status and social hierarchy as Black men attempt to either define what it means to be a man or preserve their idea of manhood.
With changing cultural norms on things like
- Gender roles,
- Pay transparency,
- And romantic relationships,
discussions around what it means to be a provider, salary expectations, and what kind of job he has have become the forefront of casual conversations related to worthiness when identifying a potential partner or spouse.
While these conversations should certainly be had to determine financial compatibility, expectations don’t always equal reality for men in the building stage, who have suffered some setback or are navigating an obstacle. Young men early in their careers might feel pressured to achieve a certain salary based on expectations articulated on social media or in casual dating scenarios about what makes them high value. This sometimes unrealistic pressure can result in feelings of inferiority and disappointment based on their current income which can lead to overworking and trigger financial trauma.
Self-worth tied to money is not a new cultural phenomenon, however. Black men learn from a young age through music and media that money equals access, freedom, and power. While this messaging isn’t always positive in its delivery, it’s easy to internalize through observations of who is rewarded and punished or what access and validation someone with money gets vs someone without.
Internalizing messaging that places money on a pedestal highlights a lifestyle that does more harm than good in the long run but gives Black men the opportunity to experience a few moments of dignity and self-worth. Even if the tradeoff is increased stress, paranoia, loneliness, depression, and death, being able to experience what it feels like to not only be a man, but THE man as he is described in music and the media might seem worth it.
Money As A Form Of Safety
Money doesn’t only equal self-worth for Black men, it equals safety. Money represents autonomy over self giving men the opportunity to not only choose their own path but to create it.
Even during the time of slavery money influenced the family structure. Slave owners would break up families and sell them for profit. In some instances, slaves were able to buy their own freedom. In others freed men were able to purchase captive family members to keep them safe.
Money as a representation of safety exists today in a different form. Black men in some instances will adopt an entirely different persona at their places of employment in an act called codeswitching. This behavior typically results in the man being viewed through a nonthreatening lens rather than through the biased lens that perceives him as an angry Black man. While this may result in the desired outcome via career progression and longevity, it can take a toll on the mental health of the individual and their concepts of safety tied to salary and job security. That safety can also be tied to supporting the immediate or extended family in a concept known as the Black tax.
This creates an interesting paradigm as the earlier concept of self-worth might come into clash with the concept of safety in instances where the man needs to provide for himself and his family, but also navigates a toxic work environment. Feelings of confusion, frustration, and anger might surface one day boiling over in an outburst or breakdown.
Changing The Relationship With Money
Black men can begin to change their relationships with money by acknowledging that money is a tool, not a prize, and that their intrinsic value cannot be influenced by how much money they do or don’t have. By building income generating skills and learning how to take that income and invest it in assets, Black men can focus on increasing their net worth rather than self-worth.
Black men can also build relationships to grow their network which will facilitate a diversity of thought around beliefs about money and subsequent money related behaviors. Seeing a financial therapist about any money related stress or anxiety can also help to establish practices to cope with financial stress and work through any negative feelings or beliefs that may linger relating to money.
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