Are Black Folks ‘Scrubs?’

Although we've made great progress, we're still "sitting on the passenger side" of American wealth

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Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree Jr., Ph.D, made an alarming observation in 2004.

I’m talking about the scrub described in the TLC song lyrics: “Sitting on the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, tryin’ to holla at me.” Don’t act like you don’t know who I’m talking about. The scrub they describe is living in his momma’s basement, takes his dates out on the bus or his bike and never has any money. The larger question is, is this term and description applicable to all black folks?

Before you ladies start tripping, I am not just referring to black men. In 2004, while speaking at a Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday event, Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Ogletree Jr. said that “(Blacks held) 1% of the nations wealth in 1865, and 1% now”. In other words, we hold the same percentage of wealth now that we held at the conclusion of slavery! Even if we assume that Ogletree’s stats are a bit off, I would be willing to bet that he isn’t far off. Black people are sitting in the passenger side of American wealth.

You’re thinking: How is this possible? We have improved exponentially. We have Oprah, Bob Johnson, Shaq, and Cosby; how is this wealth disparity possible? Black folks are arguably the descendants of the strongest people to walk the earth, a people who survived that free Caribbean cruise from the west coast of Africa. Black Folks in America have huge attributes like forgiveness, love, innovation, creativity, athleticism, and the list goes on. Black folks have a lot of things–except wealth.

In my financial advisory practice (, I get a front row seat to the insanity. I did an interview for another publication, and the interviewer was asking me why, based on a study, African American’s savings rate was so much lower than the general population. My answer included the disparity in wealth as a major reason, with a few examples. The fact that we generally earn less, require school loans more often, and rarely inherit wealth are huge factors. I did not share the participation in insane behavior with this publication since it is a “majority” publication. I will, however, add insanity as a major factor as I’m addressing the Black Enterprise audience. If you don’t know the definition of insanity, stop reading and ask someone right now. We need to collectively stop acting in an insane manner.

The solution to this insanity is way more than I can discuss here–you’ll have to wait for my book. I will, however, share a few easy ideas.

  1. Shop with black-owned businesses for 12 months. It isn’t easy. I did it, and it was the most eye opening business experience of my life. (Also, see the Empowerment Experiment.)
  2. Buy as much life insurance as you can afford, and work to end the cycle of not passing wealth on. Make the next millionaires of the next generation.
  3. Save money, even if it hurts. Put it in a freezer bag, and throw it in the back part of the freezer where it ices over so that you have to chip it out to get it.

Black folks will stop being scrubs when we realize that wealthy people are wealthy because the have a lot of money, not because they spend a lot of money. A big part of keeping the money is by spending it among ourselves.

Eric D. Grant is a financial advisor with Polaris Wealth Management.  Eric is also an Investment Adviser Representative with ING Financial Partners, member SIPC.  Polaris Wealth Management is not a subsidiary of nor controlled by ING Financial Partners.

  • Bryan Cambrice

    Yes, we are economic scrubs because we refuse to take our destiny economically and otherwise in own hands.  We depend on other people to employ us, feed, clothe, and shelter us.  We want to be accepted at the integrated table as equals but have nothing to bring to the table.  How does that make us look? Like scrubs or busters.  We fought hard for political and social freedom. Now, economics and wealth accumulation are the next civil rights battleground along with using that money for political influence so that we can get a return of tax dollars in the form of govt contracts with our businesses and jobs for our people.  Thanks brother for keeping it real!

    • Malcolm X once said that we are nothing but ex slaves, and political chumps. If Dr. Ogletree’s stats are even close to accurate (and I believe them completely), we are, as Malcolm said, little more than ex slaves. We have been doing this all wrong, and expecting different results. We have to do this differently.

  • I listened to Malcolm X and wha the is saying implies to what we are going through today; we want to be equal instead of being better. Every race, except for AA’s, practice economic racism, in that they spend there money with their own. It circulates their communties on average about seven times before it leaves. The AA communities are on a “one and done” cycle, thats why we have the highest rate of unemployment, lack of wealth, and blighted communities. We have to stop sticking our hands out, and start creating systems of wealth by any means neccesary. We are feeding the prison industrial comlex, which is modern day slavery, so his-story has not repeated itself, it has never changed and will never change unless we make a drastic change.

  • Justin Cohen

    As a “white” man living in an African American culture, I understand and agree.
    But there is one thing that I do not understand – the concept of spending money “among oursleves” (i.e. “keeping it in the community”). In my oppinion, where the money is being spent is not the root of the problem. It apears to me that the root of the problem is that African Americans are not producers, but consumers. The focus of African Americans should be “how can I produce to sell?”, bot simply “where do I spend?”.

    • Thanks for peeking in on the world of Black Folks Justin. It is a reality (a Black thang) that won’t make any sense.
      Fact is, producing is in fact the problem. However, whatever we produce will likely be purchased by other African Americans. The likelihood of someone from your community purchasing from African Americans, outside of the normal minority contracting space is slim. So in order for AA’s to produce, we need AA consumers to commit to spending among us. Althought it is controversial to say, the Civil Rights movement played a big part in devistating the AA economic position by pushing for and valuing the ability to send our money to the white community. Now your Kool Aid, Justin, appears to be sweeter than our own. Why don’t you try shopping among AA businesses for a year….hell, for a month You’ll see what I mean.

      • Justin Cohen

        Yep, like I said, there just some stuff I wont understand.
        For the most part I keep my money in my neighborhood – my barber, tailor, mechanic, doctor, dentist, lawyer, general contractor for home repairs, and tax prep guy – (all services) are African American owned and operated – simply because that’s where I live. Then if one of the folks from church has a business that produces something i might use occcasionally, I’ll keep my money in the church family (also African Amnerican) – But for other stuff, like food(except for ethnic stuff you cant get anywhere else) , clothes, etc. – Im going to Wallmart, etc – cause Im cheap and trying to save a buck however I can. – So for me it’s about realtionships first, then the only color I care about is green 🙂

  • The fact that we must still have this same dialogue after so many years that slavery has been abolished is a poetic injustice to me. When slaves were freed and the government started The Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 to supervise all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedom, I believe this was a start to what was needed to assist a group of people who had no education or money to begin to support themselves. The bureau rationed food, clothing and medicine. But what was missing then and what is still missing now is the importance to be “self-employed” and the importance of “owning your own business”. AA have always started business when there is a need. My grandfather made a living as a barber at his shop and I remember my grandmother doing hair in her kitchen with a big blow dryer that looked like a metal monster shooting out heat. They were sole proprietors. My favorite toy was a pink cash register that you pushed the numbers down and when the cash draw opened it rang. When other kids were selling lemonade on the corner, I was selling my personal poems and laminating them with plastic on wood as gifts. One month ago I quit my 9-5 and opened the poetry business again (something I had dreamed about my whole life) because the cost of the 40 hours I was spending behind a desk for another company to profit became a losing proposition to me that I was no longer willing to sacrifice.

    We as AA will increase our wealth when we begin to understand our true worth and value to the world and to our community. We are being underpaid and our talents are being exploited. If a supermodel, sports athlete, wall street CEO, rapper (and everyone that has been designated as being worth investing millions of dollars in) can establish wealth in America, I don’t see why I can not and every other AA can not. Clearly there is plenty of wealth to go around. When my business starts to prosper, I will make it my business to hire young adults because the earlier exposure to business ownership, the faster accumulation of wealth will be for them.

  • Bigearn

    If there is not a black owned business in your community, at least try to spend your money with a black owned website. Or when you buy stuff from certain sellers on third party websites like amazon and eBay contact the seller by email or phone, and just ask what is your nationality? Most people will answer because they are proud of who they are.

  • Helshock

    Maybe people don’t know of “black-owned” options they can patronize. Lets make it easy. Are there any websites or publications that list the multitudes of black-owned businesses in their area? I’ve heard talk of many creating such sites but don’t know of any off hand. I would much rather see a chain-letter promoting a site such as this than the regular daily email spam.

  • Trinette Baxter

    I think we need more financial literacy education any ideas on how to go about this? Also I find it hard to educate myself on finances. I am a single mother and I am seeking to be educated on various topics such as small business, stock market-for which I have read books and still don’t quite understand. Right now I am just merely learning from my mistakes. Please send me information on education about the stock market or more specefically my 403b plan and how to allocate the money I am investing with this. I need help. I am very concerned about the future of my boys.

  • Rich

    In one word…YES! We have been made cowards and welfare receipiants. Even the business class. With all our brains, we still do not understand that we are already equal and with just a Little unity, we could rule the world; but we are so afraid that the “man” wont apporve that we go out of our way to stay clear of one another on the day-to-day level. Our relationships are only symbolic at best and full of hypocracy!

  • hoodtechie,miami

    i was in a tire store in Atlanta getting a new set of tires put on my car when this brother comes in and kid you not paid $8,000 for tires and rims in and the store manager just looked at each other in amazement.i don’t know if he thought i was going to rob the place later or what but he hurried the brother in the back and closed the door.this brother was about my age 39.i truly wonder given the power of compound interest if he what that money would be worth in 5 years.i think once we teach our people and kids how money grows maybe we can convince more of them to save

  • Darren Mays

    I nust say there aresome great response to this article. I have to add one thing for black business owners. You must do a better job in marketing your businesses. I search all the time for black business ownersand I will say we are hard to locate. Currently, I am searching for a black owned custom home builder to build my next home in Harker Heights Texas. Anyone know of anyone please put me in contact. But trust me I want a quality builder that can deliever. Black or not if he can’t deliver I will fire him. And I don’t want anyone who speaking of the lord. Nothing personal but we tend to use the lord in place or our short-comings way too much. Yes, I am AA too. I want results not a savior for my money black people. I know how to get into heaven and trust me you can’t help me get there. I have to get there on my own.

  • Alida Timmons

    As a young, black lady growing in my collegiate career, I have been looking for ways to empower myself outside of the classroom other than facebook and myspace. This artical is very enlightening and stirs my interest towards finance as I am a business major. I espeically enjoyed the ending quote, “Wealthy people are wealthy because they save money, not spend it.” Awesome! I must past this on, and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Grant’s articles.

  • Miles G.

    Great article. In the past few years I’ve learned alot about finance, black history, and problems that affect us as a people as of now that may stem from slavery,etc. I always try to spread knowledge of what I know about finance, especially when friends or family bring up the topic. It’s sad to say, but most of them don’t care at all to do better; even if I offer to do them a budget, no charge, they say ok, but don’t act on the opportunity at all. For me, as long as I’m living i’m building wealth for me and my future family if I’m blessed to have one. Someone commented on literacy, and they’re right because so many people I kow don’t read and don’t realize how important it is to do so, and most of them I know are my fellow A.A. I’m just glad that I have a father that stressed the importance of reading since i was younger, just turned 24, I know that literacy is o’so important; like i said, I do try to spread the word. Look forward to doing much more when I finish college for community,etc.