Thoughts on life and money

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About ten years ago, my eldest daughter, Anna, produced a “zine” about her thoughts on money and her life. I am reproducing it here for this month’s “Spirit of the Poor” discussion. I will convey any comments to Anna that come my way.

A note from me:
I originally wrote this as a letter to some friends and family but decided to distribute it more widely in zine form because
1) I noticed a lack of zines about race and class at the Boston Zine Library and
2) 2) I love to make easy projects into major summer endeavors. 

Enjoy this zine! Write your own and send it to me! And please be in touch
Xo anna

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve wanted to write to you all for some time now to share with you some of my ideas and ponderings about money and privilege. I realize as I get older how important family and friends are and want to continue to build my relationships with al of you (even folks I haven’t spoken to in years!). What I’m hoping for, as much as to update you on my life, is to hear your thoughts and responses. I know many of you have spent more time than me thinking about and making decisions based on this touch and taboo subject and I am hopeful and eager to begin ongoing dialogs with any of you who are interested. Also, if you just want to write back and say hi I’d love that too.

I am going to begin by setting the stage: giving you a little overview of who I am, where I come from, and a few of the events that have impacted me and decisions that I have made in the past few years.

Then I will reflect a bit on privilege and social justice work.

Finally, in typical Anna fashion, I’ll put out a billion questions and a few conclusions (which will probably even change as I write this letter).

I grew up in Cambridge, MA, known as one of the countries most liberal, “multicultural”, and di verse cities. I grew up around kids from many different ethnicities, races and class backgrounds. This, of course, along with the multi-cultural murals throughout my town, lead me to believe that in Cambridge everyone was equal, and that I did not benefit from a racist system nor did I possess any internalized racism. (I like to think about internalized racism and classism as the ways in which our (my) very culture as people with privilege is steeped in assumptions of superiority.)

I even went so far as to believe that I had experienced racism because, being a white kid in an often majority people of color school setting, I had often experienced prejudice against me because of my white skin, (this is often referred to as reverse racism). In addition, I grew up believing my family was on the lower end of the economic spectrum because my parents were musicians, and had little yearly income, spent money thriftily, and did not value material things or wealth.

My experiences leaving home and attending three different private institutions: first Idyllwild Arts Academy and then Smith and Oberlin Colleges, opened my eyes to the race and class privilege I had grown up with and never recognized. At Oberlin I remember crying at the financial aid office when they told me I was un-eligible for any aid. I only really realized my family had money when, later that afternoon, my dad told me on the phone, (and he had been telling me this since high school), “Anna, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure out a way to pay for it.” My family had always made it clear to me that taking out big loans was not a necessity. Most cannot afford to pay $25,000/year for college without going into extreme debt. At the same time, my professors and fellow classmates, specifically classes taught by and attended by people of color at Oberlin in the African-American studies and Women’s Studies departments, made me realize, that no one is exempt from engaging in, experiencing or benefiting from racism.

And in fact, that race is inextricably linked to class mobility in this country.

I began to look into the money my family had. It was very confusing to me as I’d grown up thinking not only that we didn’t have much money but also that money (and people with money) were pretty much no good. Here’ what I found out. My mother’s parents were first generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. After growing up in a working class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, my grandfather entered the army in WW2 and, upon discharge, benefited from the GI bill, which eventually lead him to become head of the biology department at U.C. Santa Barbara.

My father’s family, since their early migration to the US from Western Europe, were small farmers in the mid-west (and later California). My dad’s dad also benefited from the GI bill, went back to school and became an engineer, moved to an all white suburb outside of LA, and became middle class.

Later on, my grandparents inherited a bunch of stock from my great great-aunt who had married a man who started an electric company, which eventually “went public” meaning entered the stock market. The stock my grandparents inherited has now been passed down and divided among my dad’s entire family (including to my sister and I). Both sets of my grandparent’s experiences huge class mobility within their life times.

As a result; my parents both having PhD’s, all of our family friends are will educated and upward from middle class, my family owns a house worth $500,000 in Cambridge, and thus far I have inherited a bout $120,000.

These resources give me access to an unlimited amount of money, jobs, loans, grants and connections. And all of this access and money is available to me, in large part, because my family and I are white and live in a world where w are systematically rewarded simply for having white skin, a “white” way of speaking, “white” mannerisms and “white” interests.

It is not easy for a 19 year old who grew up believing money was evil to figure out what to do with $70,000. I realized that ignoring the money, something many young folks are told to do, was a privilege and that in fact the very idea that money is evil is a privilege I could afford to have because I grew up with a sense of economic security.

Most of the money I had was in stocks. Thankfully, I met an awesome person named Donna who ran a socially responsible investment business (Rainbow Solutions) to talk through my options with. Through my discussions with her I realized that my most basic beliefs and values would not allow me to conscientiously participate in the stock market at all.

Donna told me about alternative to Socially Responsible investment like share holder activisms and community investment. I decided that using the money for “community investment” would make the most sense to me. When the question of interest rates came p (there was a option of choosing a 5%, 2%, or 0%) I decided that for me to charge any interest and thereby make money off of low income folks merely because I had money to start with was totally out of line and for lack of better words, (messed) up.

In the end I looked around and saw that my own community needed investing in. My friend was in considerable debt from a high interest student loan. Loan companies have started targeting low- income families like hers with children looking to go to college offering them huge loans at exorbitant interest rates that leave folks paying off debt 30 years after graduating. I approached her about the loan and after much discussion we wrote up, signed, and notarized an agreement for me to loan her the money to pay off her debt at 0-% interest rate. She is now putting money into a bank account at whatever amount/month she works out with the intention of paying the loan back in 10 years.

So on to the activism…

Since entering college I have been engaged in a lot of activism around foreign policy, global economics, and labor rights. For most of that time I worked mainly with other privileged students and adults to support movements in Latin America, to pressure congress about international policy, to support strikes, to organize protests against war and free trade. We talked of the oppressed and the oppressors and fought desperately to place ourselves on the side of the oppressed.

It was a rarely spoken truth that most of us were rich and white, and when this was spoken it was with a sense of guilt, shame or failure. Differences between us, when there were class or race differences, were never talked about. Even in groups where fighting racism, classism and sexism were integral to the mission of the work, we were so action oriented that we were always to busy organizing other people to sit down and talk about our own race, class and gender experiences.

At some point I began attending “antioppression” tranings (trainings developed by activists for activists for activists about recognizing oppression and privilege within the movements we were a part of.) These trainings helped me realize that my identity as a rich white girl could not be separated from my activism but instead must inform and shape my acitivism (and all aspects of my life.) The message I got was that change needs to happen not just in oppressed communities but also in all communities including my own, and that I am best equipped to change my own community.

So, my community … who/what is my community? I consider you all to be party of my many communities. You are my family, biological or chosen. The young college bound or college graduates. Radical dropouts, (or folks that talked about dropping out but never did). Hippies and punks. Artists. Queer folks. White people from urban areas. People with money who aren’t proud of it. Gentrifiers who know they are gentrifiers.

And what issues do we struggle with? Well, shit, I can’t speak for you all, but here THIS is what I struggle with. Guilt. Internalized racism and chlassism that won’t leave me alone. The looming question of what to do with mhy money (and my life.) Being part of a dominating culture of silence, avoiding conflict, keeping order, and repressing emotions. Depression.

In June 2004, (a year ago), I stopped working t Jobs with Justice. I needed a breath of air from the activist world; time to really think about my class, race and gender and how from my life and experiences, to be most effective at creating change in the world. I started talking to folks from an organization called Resource Generation; a group that works with young people who self identify as privileged to help mobilize their resources and address issues that come up in communities of wealth. I am currently helping to organize an annual conference called Making Money Make Change. The conference will bring together 60 young people with wealth to talk about privilege, money, and how to better engage in and be an ally in the movement for social justice.

In this work and in every aspect of my life I continue to struggle with many questions. Some questions I have found at least temporarily satisfactory answers to, and others remain too complicated to even attempt to solve. The following are some of the conclusions I have come to. Please feel free to challenge them and be challenged by them.

CONCLUSIONS?
1. I think that for people with privilege, socially responsible investment, if that is the end result of what you choose to do with an excess of money, is an easy way to be a capitalist and feel you are doing good in the world without actually re-distributing any wealth.
2. I think that as people with privilege, it is our responsibility to challenge the notion of interest: Why do we expect that if we have money we should be able to make more money off of it? Isn’t it just a recipe for widening the wealth gap?
3. Finally, while I do think that giving away money is an extremely important part of being an activist with wealth, it also feels like just a tiny contribution to the movement for social justice, after all, many of us got this money in not so nice ways, re-distributing it is the least we can do.

And then there are those questions, perhaps the bigger questions that continue to buzz through my head.

When and how do I give away the money I have?

How can I give away money without gaining more power for myself in the process simply by choosing how and who to fund?

What would being a real ally look like?

How can I balance being a responsible person and being engaged in activities I love?

How can I best use my resources to make change? Is it by giving away all my money and working like everyone else? Getting a degree/profession to use? Being a full time un-paid activist and living off my wealth?

I want to know about decisions you have made based on money and privilege, jobs, life style, organizing and who those were/are influenced or based on your class or race (or gender). I respect each and every one of you and am excited to hear your thoughts, responses, stories and anything else you want to share.

For now, these are the things I plan on doing; I am going to create a giving plan to strategically give away all the money I have inherited. I am going to practice real solidarity by engaging in local struggles. I will be upfront and honest about who I am. I will try to see all situations and interactions with a race, class and gender analysis. I will continue organizing in communities of privilege. I will continue to talk about and work out my own internalized racism and classism. I will work to recognize and stop the cultural appropriation and the tokenization of people of color and poor folks. I will stop feeling guilty for the privilege I was born with that I can’t give away, take back or reverse.

Whew, I think that’s it 🙂 thanks for reading this absurdly long essay/letter/zine! Please take your time writing back! No pressure. And again, if you just want to write and say hi, that’s totally wonderful for me.

Much love to all of you
Anna Hendricks

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About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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4 Responses to Thoughts on life and money

  1. Hi Anna 🙂

    There’s so much here, so much passion and energy in your voice. I’d love to hear more, because some of your questions and comments lead me to more questions…

    “Money is evil” – is that still something you feel is true? Is that why you feel guilty about “white privilege”? I didn’t grow up with these kinds of conversations so it’s different for me to hear these phrases.

    As a child, like you, I felt our family was “under privileged” perhaps because my father was frugal and although all our needs were taken care of, we didn’t have excesses. It surprised me, when in high school, I had a school project that required my father to disclose his annual income. As a pilot, it was higher than average. It never occurred to me that we were “privileged”. He had been a saver all his life, married late, and paid cash for almost everything.

    I remember watching commercials on television, as a child, about poverty in the 3rd world… and it caused me to feel guilty about having all my needs met. I determined I would work in the 3rd world helping to improve their lives, forsaking wealth… I was about 10-11 years old, at the time.

    I’m not so sure I wasn’t being judgmental of the wealthy. I remember being sincere and trying to be an activist, beginning in my own home, but my altruistic ideas were rejected, immediately. These days, I wonder if it’s wrong to have extra money, and I also wonder if we sometimes hurt people and causes by throwing money at them, without personal involvement. There is so much to consider and I feel like I’m just now ready to really tackle learning more. I value wisdom, and I remember how God made Abraham, Job, and many other Biblical people wealthy, and it was considered a good thing. I also think of the Proverbs 31 woman… and again, wealth appears to be a blessing, and I know that the ancient Hebrews practiced hospitality, generosity, and charitable giving that was amazing.

    I like what the apostle Paul says about money, “I have learned to happy with a little or a lot.” He knew both sides, wealth and poverty. There’s so much to learn, and like you, I have a lot of questions. I look forward to reading more of your stories, Anna, and hearing your thoughts. I apologize for so many words… it’s such a huge topic, and I hardly know where to begin or end… but thank you, Anna, for sharing!

    Like

    • Sue,
      I saw Anna Thursday and showed her your comment. Before I relay her response, let me tell you a bit of her life in the last 10 years, since she wrote this “zine.”

      Anna had left college after 2 years and she did, in fact, give away her tuition money inheritance from her grandparents. Esther once wrote that I was the kind of firend who stands next to you and helps you do the things you wouldn’t be able to do alone. Anna has been that friend to me.

      Anna not only gave away her inheritance, but she told me that I should give away mine as well, which I did. Anna’s understanding of internalized privilege (from class, race, gender, and economic status) has been a harder lesson for me to learn, but one, with Anna’s help, I have slowly come to understand.

      Anna did commit to three years working on the annual conference of “Making Money Make Change.” The first year, as a 22-year-old working with very wealthy 30-year-olds, she was a gofer – but in the evaluation session she made a suggestion about a better closing for the conference. In the second year, she was in charge of the closing. In the third year she was in charge of the conference.

      With a few others from that organization, she toured New Orleans after Katrina and made the commitment to raise several million dollars, working with the African-American 21st Century Foundation. They met their goal.

      For the past seven years Anna and her partner, along with s few others friends, have been caretakers of a neglected organic farm, slowly bringing back the farm while pursuing other aspects of their lives. Anna now has a five-year-old daughter, a teaching career of creative movement for young children, is in a small dance company, works on the farm, and spends what computer time she has with two non-profit organizations: a community center in a near-by depressed mill town, Turner’s Falls; and The Prison Birth Project, which helps women who give birth while in prison.

      As for Anna’s response to your comment, Sue, she was a bit appalled at the biblical stories of God rewarding people with material wealth. “There is a lot of bad stuff in the Bible.” Was her comment. “Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff, but there is also a lot of good stuff,” was , my response. I do agree with Anna that the doctrine of Divine Providence which holds that God rewards goodness with material blessings is an evil doctrine. I wrote some about this on Diana Trautwein’s series, when she asked the question “Why do bad things happen to good people.”

      https://newellhendricks.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/material-blessings-and-divine-providence/

      The question for me is not “can I live comfortable with wealth as well as poverty,” but can everyone live comfortably when I have wealth that was acquired in a way that systematically exploits a majority of the worlds population. I believe that we, in the United States, have internalized this doctrine of providence to the extent that we really believe that our foreign policy is doing God’s will. The reality is that the world’s political and economic systems were created by the wealthy white nations to ensure their status on top of the economic ladder.

      One Biblical model for me is Moses. He was born into privilege, and tried ineffectively to do justice when he saw a guard beating a Hebrew slave. It wasn’t until he gave up his position of wealth and status and spent years as a lowly shepherd, that he was fit to lead. Archbishop Romero is another example for me. He was born into wealth in Spain, but as Archbishop, gave up his privilege, lived in a very simple dwelling and began listening to the priests who were being persecuted. Then he was able to speak truth to the people.

      Anna and I continue our conversations. One act of giving away ones wealth does not make one righteous, but is a starting place for learning and continuing to learn. I really do appreciate this conversation and learn from everyone who participates. Thank you, Sue for your comment.
      Newell

      Like

  2. I heartily agree that unless you have given up everything you haven’t quite begun to live, to understand, and to empathize. David was trained in the desert, as we Moses, and Jesus and Paul also spend long periods of fasting in the wilderness.

    Anna’s words have even more integrity, having heard the next part of her story. She is a strong catalyst for change.

    I am aghast at writings in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Isaiah, the Psalms, and the Gospels are pretty much all I read right now. I had to fast, for a couple of years, from the Bible because I was so heavily indoctrinated by the church’s interpretation of it.

    Genocide, child sacrifice… I am horror stricken at what I used to be believe as truth. And I’m more deeply disturbed by the kind of person I became, as a result of absorbing that teaching. I’m starting to return to the little girl I used to be.

    I have given away everything, except for a few clothes, a few books, and my journals… and one old rocking chair. I have lived as a homeless woman, not by necessity but by choice. Little by little I am trying to understand the concepts I first began to learn when I was a child…. to give it all away.

    My granddaughter shared a story a teacher told in school… about a man who gave both of his eyes away. The words, “I will” were all that was needed. He would said, “I will give you my left eye,” and so it happened… God took his left eye and gave it to the person in need.

    When the man was blind in both eyes he was left defenseless. At the moment of his deepest vulnerability, God touched him and restored his eyes.

    There is a walk I am on with God right now, where I’m just learning to think like a child again… to be so obedient, to care-less about myself, that I can live in the joy and wonder of touching other lives with no other agenda than to simply love someone, to give them a drink of life…

    I have so little to give, but I’ve been trying to give my all. I believe that is all God requires of us.. because in the giving of our all, He gives back to us so much more.

    I hope Anna will share more, one day…. it’s from people like her that I want to learn.

    Like

  3. THank you, Sue, and bless you for all that you give.

    Like

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