I have never been financially independent. Every bit of what you see has been given to me or provided by someone else. More specifically, there is nothing I have a man has not given to me. I ooze privilege. White. Blonde curls (that I straighten). Designer clothes. New car. Bouncy disposition. I am the women I criticize and have tried to stay away from for most of my life. This is not surprising, considering psychology tells us what we hate the most in others is often what we hate the most about ourselves.
I grew up in an incredible family. My parents didn’t come from wealth, but my whole life I watched them sacrifice so I could. My mom stayed home with my siblings and me while my dad worked two to three jobs at a time to ensure there was never a thing we needed he couldn’t provide for us. Looking back at it, I can’t remember a single thing my parents ever said “no” to. Their response was usually “Do some chores around the house to earn what you want.” They worked day in and day out to make sure the answer would eventually be a “yes.” And like many other children, I didn’t understand the importance of that work or the place of privilege it allowed me to operate in.
Now that I am in my 30s and have started a family of my own, I’ve been able to take a step back and dig into the unresolved conflict of dependence vs. independence I find myself wavering between. For me to grasp what that means for me, I have to walk back a to get the full picture of the ways and reasons my psyche chooses to believe I’m incapable of the one thing I’ve never been able to obtain: financial independence.
There’s a lot of story to tell between then and now, but let’s fast forward to my first job post-graduate school. (And believe me, there’s plenty to tell …)
By the time I accepted my dream position at my dream institution, they could have paid me nothing, and I would have graciously accepted it because I believed, despite my masters in marriage and family therapy, I had no skills and no value to offer a space. For two years, I stayed at a job where I was paid less than $30,000 because I believed it was all I was worth. My well-respected male boss affirmed my belief I wasn’t worthy of professional, financial or institutional investment.
Two years later, for the first time ever, at 32-year-old, I was given a chance at true independence.
Looking back on the conversation that began it all, it saddens me now to recall my voice saying things like, “I’m not sure this is good for me” … “I need some time to think about this” … “I can’t ask for the salary I want because that’s not fair to you.”
I’d recently left my low-paying job and made the decision to not work for another organization for the rest of my life. I’d been burned. I was done allowing myself to be. I had been doing some really hard work with my therapist to dismantle my dependence on men in positions of power, and I vowed to never put myself in such a situation again. I owed it to myself to heal. I also wanted to achieve financial independence. I started doing some contract work and gained confidence in having several renewed contracts.
I distinctly remember the moment I realized I had made enough money to buy a laptop computer all on my own. I had never been able to buy anything that expensive with money I’d earned on my own; it was everything to me. My husband went with me to choose a laptop, and I intentionally and defiantly chose one he didn’t pick. That was August 2020.
Through my contract work, one organization I was especially drawn to one organization, and it seemed reciprocal. I was getting more and more requests to work on things outside of what I was contracted to do with them, and I had begun to trust the founder. One day we talked, and I opened up to her about some of my past difficulties in the workplace. She listened, validated and encouraged me. She was honest and challenging. She gave me resources and shared her professional and personal visions. I came to realize she, too, had experienced spaces that made her feel less than and everything she was doing now was to ensure women didn’t ever have to feel that way anymore.
“I’m not sure this is good for me” … She challenged me.
“I can’t ask for the salary I want because that’s not fair to you.” … The first person to ever give me professional value was a Black woman, and the first person to ever pay me a fair wage was a Black woman. The person that gave me the gift of financial independence was a Black woman.
“I need some time to think about this” … The first person to ever advocate for me in a professional setting was a Black woman. My child is held and loved by Black women (and a Black man, whenever Joecephus shows up). My coworkers are Black women. My bosses are Black women. My friends are Black women. My village is Black women.
The beauty of that? They owe me none of the things they offer me, they owe me nothing at all. They gift it to me because they know no woman is free until all women are free. That includes me—the bouncy, chatty, privileged white woman who was wrapped in an unbreakable struggle of dependence on men.
For the first time in my entire life, I can support myself and my daughter. We have a security all women deserve, no matter if their choice is to stay at home or join the workplace. I hope my work at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects gives more and more women the security they have earned by existing in a world that doesn’t value them. When all else fails, I hope girls and women can come here and I can give them the same gift this organization has given me: value, validation and consideration.
They’re my village, and they’ve allowed me to be part of theirs, so don’t come for my crew.