Originally published by
By Brittney Oliver and Jasmine Browley | Updated December 22, 2021
Without a doubt, money is impactful. It can completely transform your life, especially if you grew up without it.
While an uptick in income can positively shape your life, it’s important to be aware of how it could potentially shift your sense of identity over time. Moving from one socioeconomic class to another can greatly influence the way you view yourself, your family, and your values.
In Merrill’s research study Diverse Viewpoints: Exploring Wealth in the Black/African American Community, the theme of identity as it relates to financial goals is explored, and the findings reflect the Black/African American community’s complex history in America.
Two-thirds of affluent Black/African Americans Merrill surveyed see themselves as American first, then as part of the Black/African American community. Respondents described themselves as more than their racial identity: “I’m proud to be Black, and I’m so much more.”
It’s that pride that Cleo, Director of Technology Solutions Sales at IQVIA, calls a badge of honor even in spaces that lack diversity and inclusion. Cleo has worked in his industry for nearly 30 years and recalls the countless times he was the only Black/African American person in the room. It caused concern for him, but he learned to embrace the unique perspective he offered the space.
“I have to embrace that differentness, that outsiderness, and wear it, frankly, as a badge of honor,” Cleo shared during a roundtable conversation conducted by Merrill. “Not as a matter of feeling special, but by being confident in who I am as an individual and building bridges to bring others with me.”
It’s those experiences that inspire him to be an example for the next generation of Black/African American professionals. Setting an example of what success and wealth looks like is important, but for some, being the only one in the room is considered a “consequence of success.” According to some study participants, that consequence of success is feeling further removed from the community that helped them achieve their goals.
Marcus, a partner at a law firm and a study participant, experienced this after moving to a new neighborhood because of its strong school system. “Our kids are going to high school in the next couple of years, and I want to make sure I’m giving them the best opportunities to succeed,” he shared. “I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and that I’m able to even consider doing this. But we also worry about what we’re giving up.”
Marcus said he believes he would be sacrificing community if his family moves. “There’s a lot to be said about growing up around people who understand your life, the things that you go through, and who have gone through similar things in the past. Even if we’re not all at the same level financially, I still know I belong here,” he explained. His children will no longer live close to their grandparents, church home, or friends, making it hard to decide between having a sense of belonging or having access to opportunities. “It feels unfair that I even have to make this tradeoff,” Marcus said.
Marcus’s story reminds us that while it’s important to prioritize financial health, it’s even more important to prioritize your relationships with friends and family. For instance another study participant, Raquel, a university administrator, acknowledges the integral role her family and friends have played in her current success.
“I got this work ethic from my father. I watched him work hard at two jobs all his life. He is 75 and still owns a bus company and is still working hard. I do things outside of my job at Emory, like my cupcake business and my food blog. I have used my event planning skills to help my friend with her vegan catering business. I work hard, I do a great job, she pays me. It’s all good!”
Like many of us, Raquel’s appreciation for hard work can be attributed to her upbringing and why she believes the effort will lead to achieving her financial goals. She’s not the only one.
According to Merrill’s study, 62% of participants said they’ve worked hard to chart their own path and have reaped the benefits of it. This is exciting to hear, but it’s important to strike a balance between achieving financial goals and staying true to yourself.
When money-related shifts start to happen for the first time in your life, it can be tough to adjust your mind state from surviving to thriving. This can also be a challenge for those around you as they navigate this journey while by your side. Money can be a powerful and positive way to bring people together, but it can also create discord if people are not prepared for the implications of wealth. Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent this challenge. At the crux of any healthy relationship is open and honest conversation. Success and the decisions that come with success can be complicated, so open dialogue and exploring all angles is so important. Consider speaking with a financial advisor for guidance to help you pursue your financial goals while you build the life you want.
Learn more about Merrill’s study that includes insights and stories around wealth and identity from the Black/African American community at ml.com/diversity.
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