Chloe McKenzie is introducing the concept of “wealth justice” as a way of generating financial trauma from generation to generation as a result of the extractive system – starting with slavery and continuing in various forms today. She founded BlackFem to maximize the wealth-building potential of black women, women of color, and their communities. Ashok’s Manmeet Mehta talks to Chloe to find out more.
Manmeet Mehta: Chloe, your research shows that the structure of financial literacy actually perpetuates financial trauma for many girls and women of color. Why?
Chloe Mackenzie: That’s right. It lies first and foremost in financial shame. But the most detrimental is that it takes a behavioral, not structural, starting point. How can we get rid of it? New languages help us. What I call “wealth judgment” is the irresistible promise of healing the financial trauma of the generation, which has the greatest impact on a person’s ability to build wealth. If we go back to the beginnings of our American economic system, the bodies of black women cannot be separated from their economic production – their economic obligation was to give birth to new wealth. This financial trauma, the growing damage that black women have historically, intergenerationally and contemporaneously suffered, is reflected in our financial behavior.
Mehta: What led you to this insight into wealth trauma and justice?
Mackenzie: The answer is deeply personal. I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland একটি one of seven counties in the country where black families have more wealth than white families. So, my early experience was very different than many black friends across the United States. At the same time, I was mostly alone from the age of 12, due to family abuse and the divorce of my parents. It was only later that I really began to see the link between my initial traumatic experience and my financial behavior as an adult – a question I later elaborated on after describing other black women and their experiences.
Mehta: It became a crystal in 2015 when you started a company called Blackfame. Why did you call it that?
Mackenzie: Well, the way we perceive wealth inequality is usually one-dimensional. We say Ethnic Resource gap, isn’t it? But it can make black women and women of color disappear because you are only talking about race. Meanwhile, for every dollar a single black man owns, a black woman owns only 42 cents – less than half. At BlackFem we consider race and gender, realizing that financial trauma is often complicated for people who have multiple weak identities. And our name is a word because black and a woman cannot be de-linked. And on a light note, after I started BlackFame after working as a businessman on Wall Street, I thought: BlackRock, Blackstone, BlackFame — it somehow fits a financial institution.
Mehta: Have you ever asked: “Why black girls and women and no one else?”
Mackenzie: Yes! Yes. But here’s the thing: we work with everyone. We only collect impact data so we make sure we help black women and girls. That is the difference. I remember reading Combahee River Collective Statement in my senior year in college এটা it basically says that black feminism is the way we are going to solve social problems. Why? Because if we free them from the economic-political and economic totem poles, we will free everyone.
Mehta: Your first organizational partner was the school — and now, Blackfame partners with 20 school districts in 38 cities. What does your curriculum look like?
Mackenzie: So financial trauma occurs mainly through four systems: education, policy making, culture and family. You are right that I started Blackfame really focused on the education system, especially the K-12, because we know that early intervention works from a social change perspective. Plus, the younger you start, the more people Will be less injured. They may experience trauma from their parents or adults, but their actual hold on how financial trauma is embodied in their financial behavior is much lower. For this reason, we have begun to move through high school to one of the most under-resourced and neglected school districts, implementing our resource justice framework five days a week as a key subject. We have created family programming and trained schools on how to stop criminal trauma through their curriculum framework.
Mehta: Now you work with a variety of organizations, from financial institutions, higher education institutions, local state and federal governments, policy makers, research institutes. Do they want help?
Mackenzie: New partners usually come up with some version of this: “We have an idea that this financing process or this grant making process, or our business model could contribute to the wealth gap or contribute to the financial impact of this or that population.” They want guidance on what to do to reverse the harmful effects and create a net positive for the communities they care about. I focus: How is harassment embedded in business models and institutional structures? And how can we weed it out and make the necessary systematic or institutional transformation so that that effect no longer occurs?
As my research gained visibility, several cities reached out, saying, “Our residents are probably experiencing financial trauma due to X, Y, Z. We want to use your structure to close the wealth gap.” The policy is, of course, one of the main drivers of financial trauma, as it codes for harmful economic needs. So, the mayor and state officials are now saying, “Well, how can we develop a complete infrastructure with which I agree? We will provide direct services to our target population, which is important, but the impact is limited if we do not change other factors as well.” And they are right. You need direct impact with the target constituency. This is the work of healing. And to remove the conditions that your systems need to change that contain problems.
Mehta: Are you working with financial institutions and other organizations that have made public commitments to address the wealth gap?
Mackenzie: Yeah Al that sounds pretty crap to me, Looks like BT aint for me either. Businesses are beginning to realize that yes, we can make these commitments, but if we do not change our business model and institutional structure, these commitments may eventually be revoked. VC Fund has asked me to audit their funding processes because they are interested, for example, in funding the founders of Color. But they still do not see that their due diligence processes can actually be a form of financial traumatization. Not the purpose, but the effect in the end.
Mehta: Are you excited about some areas?
Mackenzie: I’m working on two new studies this year. The first, newly published, explores financial trauma in new mothers and the first postpartum period. The second looks at the entrepreneurial context, especially the fundraising process of the investment process which can turn the entrepreneur into a vehicle for creating material wealth in the case of under-represented and minority founders. I will share insights from this in the coming months to show how relevant the financial impact trauma is to the social impact targets of investors and the asset-building potential of an entrepreneur.
Mehta: Chloe, do you expect change, say, casting out a year, or more, a decade?
Mackenzie: In the near term, I would like to see the lens of asset justice adopted and widely applied. Because if we don’t put financial trauma in context when we talk about systemic reform, we will never have a hard enough solution to make a real difference. More Out: Being incredibly optimistic on this beautiful day, I am going to hope that we will see a close wealth gap – especially for black girls and women. Coming back to Combahee River Collective, which is a must read for my team, however, would mean the liberation of all people.
This interview was shortened by Ashok.